Black Lives Need Air Travel As Much As Anyone

Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Dr. Jonathan Stanley


The bizarre and pointless criminal trespass onto the airside of London City Airport today has been feted by some in the media as raising valid points over how Blacks suffer more from aviation than the rest of the population.

To quote directly, "In Britain, 28% of black people are more likely to be exposed to air pollution... being in closest proximity to the industries causing climate change." It may be convenient to dismiss this claim as attention-seeking virtue signalling, but if we dig deeper we find two very clear areas of discussion worth having.

The first is that aviation in London centres around several large airports that are international in scope and global in terms of volume. Heathrow has an unparalleled market share of flights between Europe and West Africa, indeed, it has been the point by which so many black Africans arrived in the UK originally and now serves to connect families and businesses between London and Lagos, Accra and Abuja. It allows African nations to access a global business hub so Ghanaians can diversify from bananas into banking, and from commodity production into currency trading; taking advantage of the same time zone and language as used by the UK.

The second is that Blacks suffer more form air pollution than Whites. This, if true, is confounded by the fact that the Black population is far more urban than the white population for many reasons present and historic. When considering the direct impact of aviation to London's health, one can safely link proximity to airports with impact from noise and particulate pollution.

Here we a curious pattern emerge. Ethnic minorities indeed are overweight in areas surrounding Heathrow and the City...but their ethnicity is more likely to be Asian than Black.  For Stansted and Gatwick, the neighbouring population is overwhelmingly white though of a much lower population density.  It is the urban nature of the Black population in the UK, predominantly in London, that gives it access to flights that are cheap, abundant and with a range far surpassing that offered by Newcastle or Edinburgh.

It is inherently racist to group all whites as a homogenised demography. How could the Labour Party have come to prominence in the last century - or indeed the SNP in this one - if this were so?

Poorer people do fly less often and less further afield than richer people so maybe the flat rate of airport passenger duty for short haul flights should be seen for the regressive tax that it really is and be reduced or even removed?  Life expectancies differ between people living in Kensington in London and Gourock in Scotland considerably and the reason is not ethnicity. If anything, people in Gourock are more likely to be white than those in west London, not less. 

The causes of poverty and the lack of social mobility in the UK are real, serious and above all complex. It is hard to see how shutting down aviation between the EU and UK is going to help anyone in the UK, let alone those living close to airports who provide for a range of employment opportunities. Black and, of course, Asian people use airports: get over it.

They are also working in them and the wider economy benefits from the tourism and business our airports support. More than 25 years after Mandela was released, South Africa's airports are rightly seen as vital to that country's place in the world. Has the ANC ever considered shutting them down because the average White may use them more than the average Black? 

Closing down the UK to international travel will hurt many people and on a personal level will impact most on those reliant on aviation to keep their families together in an ever more global world. The criminals today should be taught that lesson in no uncertain terms. They should be banned from entering any UK airport for life. They can take a ferry to Dublin or a bus to Brussels and fly from there if they have such concerns about British aviation.

With Heathrow bursting at the seams, their custom won't be missed.

Dr. Jonathan Stanley is a Junior Doctor, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and Health Contributor at the Bow Group