Environment minister kicks off Ryanair brawl

Environment minister Ian Pearson has become engaged in an ugly scrap between Europe’s leading budget airline and the government.

Mr Pearson branded Ryanair “the irresponsible face of capitalism” in their attitude to the environment – as well as describing major American airlines as a “disgrace” in terms of their attitude.

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary – rarely one to take criticism lying down – responded, saying Mr Pearson “hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about” and, recalling Denis Healy’s famous quip, added: “Being attacked by Minister Pearson …. is like ‘being savaged by a dead sheep’.”

The row began when Mr Pearson, in an interview with the Guardian, said government plans to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 are being put under threat by low-cost airlines.

Yesterday, Ryanair reported its passenger numbers grew 19 per cent in December, with over 40 million people flying with the budget carrier in 2006.

And Mr O’Leary has been on record saying his company will not sign up to an EU carbon trading scheme.

“When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism. [Mr] O’Leary just seems to take pride in refusing to recognise that climate change is a genuine problem,” Mr Pearson said.

“Like every other industry, the airline industry has got to take its share of responsibility for combating climate change and the EU’s proposal is the vehicle by which they can do just that,” he said.

But Ryanair rounded on these allegations.

The budget carrier pointed out the airline industry accounts for just 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while road transport accounts for 18 per cent and power generation for over 25 per cent of carbon emissions.

Additionally, Ryanair is Europe’s greenest airline after buying a new fleet which reduce carbon emissions per passenger seat by 50 per cent, a recent report finds.

“Like most politicians, Minister Pearson talks a lot but does little,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Unlike politicians, Ryanair has spent over $10 billion to become Europe’s greenest and cleanest airline, a fact recently recognised by the Dutch consumer organisation.

“At a time when aviation generates just 1.6 per cent of greenhouse gasses, isn’t it time that Minister Pearson and other equally foolish politicians actually tackled the real causes of climate change which is road transport and power generation.”