The dilemma facing the aviation industry was made clear at the CAPA Airlines in Transition summit in Manchester earlier this month. On the one hand, all are struggling to emerge from the worst crisis of all time, burdened with massive debt and, on the other hand, they have to deal with environmental and consumer pressure as well as war concerns. against Ukraine and its impact on, well, practically everything – human costs, fuel costs, world order and stability.
So on the one hand you have airline executives on stage talking about the recovery and performance of their routes and their sustainability goals – everyone has set goals – and on the other, you have Cait Hewitt, policy director of the Aeronautical Environment Federation, stating “the only solution is to fly less” and “reduce long-haul flights”.
Hewitt says his organization was leading a few key campaigns — an aviation policy that aligns with net zero and tough airport expansion. “We seem to have an insatiable appetite for growth and we shouldn’t increase airport capacity,” says Hewitt, who acts as an expert witness in airport planning cases. “We call on ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) to establish a long-term plan.”
Joining her on the panel on “Mega Trend 1: Decarbonization”, Piero Sierra, Product Manager at Skyscanner, calls him the “bravest person to speak at an airline conference”, and spoke about the recovery the online travel company is seeing. “Before the pandemic, we had 100 million customers, we are back to 68 million. And they are mostly on mobile, at 74%.”
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Plus, they’re making greener choices, he says, with a majority “selecting our greener choices at a price premium.” The challenge is to create standardized scores for aviation, hotels, and tours and activities so consumers understand what they’re buying, so everyone sees the same thing.
IATA Fuel Director Alexander Kuper said fuel and SAF are now integrated into IATA’s new environmental sustainability division and the aviation community is committed to achieving zero. net by 2050. SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) will be the main tool, he says, and it is expected that by 2038 there will be more SAF in use than normal fuel.
“To align as a global organization is a challenge, but it can be done,” he says. “We need a comprehensive approach. If you look at regions like Saudi Arabia which is looking to grow its air market (from 100 million to 330 million passengers by 2030), we cannot deprive these regions of their chance to develop.
Jonathan Counsell, Group Head of Sustainability at AGI, says aviation was the only industry to commit to net zero. “IAG made its commitment in October 2019, we made a commitment as an industry, now we need to get the commitment from ICAO.”
And after the commitments, he says, “Now it’s about delivery. The pace of technology over the past three to five years has been nothing short of amazing and I have never been more optimistic than I am now in my 15 years in aviation.
A big goal is SAF, he says. “We already have 400,000 flights on SAF and we can reach 10% by 2030 and remember, the first 10% are the hardest. Once we get past that, we will be on track and aim for 60% by 2050.”
Christina Cassotis, CEO of Pittsburgh International Airportwhich is the world’s first airport powered by solar energy – with nearly 10,000 solar panels – and natural gas generated directly on site, indicates that delivery begins at the local level.
“We are the first off-grid airport,” she says, adding that it is investing in proprietary technology to turn natural gas into blue hydrogen. “LNG should be considered as a transition fuel while we invest in SAF,” she says.
There is also of course the specter of government regulation and taxation, she notes.
Saying the industry has a “massive messaging problem,” she says, “we all talk about what we do but no one talks to the consumer. Carbon calculators are like a rev counter, it means nothing to the consumer. We can do this by focusing on what’s important to people. We can ask, would you rather live in Pittsburgh today or in Pittsburgh in 1948?”
The point is, she says, “you take away the air service, you take away the community,” adding, “if we don’t earn the right to grow, we won’t have the right to exist.”
* This article was originally published on WiT.