It is undeniable the major global developments that have been possible thanks to the aviation industry, our entire world is subject of its social and economic domino effect. Not for nothing, quite a few airlines are celebrating with great fanfare their hundredth anniversary this year. A century of tremendous developments and technological revolution. Just today, an ultra-long-haul journey is taking place as I write this, the London to Sydney non-stop milestone test flight is occurring as I write this! A 19hr hours journey than 80 years ago used to take over 12 days and over 4 transfers. One outstanding achievement if you ask me.
But not everything comes from free. Last week I attended one of the aviation conferences at the WTM, during the World Responsible Tourism Day and this is the summary of what I learned on the day.
The session was held with the panel of specialists in the area, who discussed the various outlooks of sustainability and how the industry might be falling behind its goals of reducing its greenhouse emissions. One of the panellists, Justin Francis, an activist and influencer for all related sustainable travel matters, was present and ready to challenge the industry.
During the session, various points of view were shared to explain the challenges that the aviation industry holds within the complexity of our current society and business landscape. The aviation industry is perceived to be the Achilles heel of the travel industry since it accounts for 80% of its carbon emissions. As you can imagine, the effect can be very dramatic in the near future because aviation is forecasted to grow at a rate of at least 5% yearly. We are living now in a generation of travellers, and simply cannot stop flying, the roll on the dice seems now to be unstoppable. Justin highlighted that by the year 2050, carbon emissions are forecasted to increase by 300%.
Now., it is important to highpoint that no other industry is doing great in this area either, Angela Foster, Speaker from Aerial Consulting, said that ground transport in general accounts from 23% of total emissions in the UK. Similarly, deforestation alone accounts for 11% of the UK total. Globally and all industry related, air travel accounts for 2% of global emissions. Therefore, other industries also need to be hard-pressed for bigger sustainable efforts.
Aviation has at least started a series of initiatives that are notably costly on their balance sheets. Most significantly in terms of R&D: One example is the use of alternative jet fuel, the so-called biofuel, which has produced some positive results in recent years for airlines such as United Airlines. Even so, still plenty more to do in this area, particularly because to be able to consider biofuel usage globally, we need to consider also the slow waiting time. This is a process of long research, tests, and heavy regulation, an advance that does not produce significantly fast results.
Another initiative is the modernization of aircraft fleets to more fuel-efficient types, thus capitalizing modern aircraft technologies that decrease fuel consumption by up to 30% compared to older aircraft and which also optimise passengers load factors. Fleet upgrading has been this decade’s cup of tea in aviation, as most airlines are happy to undertake this renewal as it provides them with the chance to revamp their cabin classes to satisfy their diverse and ever-changing market. Changes need to be environmentally and economically viable so this is a very good example.
Of course, the whole landscape is complex, aviation is not only subject to several environmental concerns, but also to several regulatory frameworks, economic and political challenges and numerous social aspects. All of it places the industry into a position of vulnerability. The key to achieving a more sustainable aviation sector is the ongoing scanning of new technologies and ideas by all its stakeholders. Also, their continuing commitment to the implementation of ongoing solutions.
Commercial aviation technologies are indeed improving, although perhaps not at the rate expected to achieve significant reductions straight away. As you can realise, technology must be both sustainable but also feasible economical. There are so many industries if not all, that depends on aviation, our entire global economy, as I said before, it is a domino effect, so let’s put things into perspective of the reality we face today.
Neil Clougley, from Faradair Aerospace, brought into the session the fascinating subject of electric power system technologies that belief or not is now already available in airports around the world. Let’s think for a moment, the most expensive phases of a flight are the take-off and landing. This is because is when the major fuel consumption occurs. Well, this type of technologies, as explained by Neil, reduce this consumption between 30% & 40% by relieving specific functions such as the lift stage. I found this extremely interesting, if it works as Neil explained, this would immediately reduce a fair amount of emissions globally, if there were to be adopted massively around the world of course. This is a call to action really. I am optimistic and surely mankind has proven remarkable abilities through history. This type of technology might just be one of the best solutions to pursue now to try to solve this puzzle.
Many airlines have committed to reducing its greenhouse emission, I believe they do want a world where they can fly to as well in the future. For instance, IAG, and Qantas have alleged that they will reduce its carbon emissions significantly by the year 2050, they just need to provide details on their specific plans to accomplish so.
Peter Castellas, CEO of Tasman Environmental Markets, also brought some other initiatives that can if globally adopted, to provide an effective carbon offsetting solution. These include: Investment in Off-setting projects with strong action plans, global education about what carbon emissions really are since there is a lot of misinformation out there. On the education topic, Peter continued, one example is the one by Qantas, the Australian flag carrier, which engages directly with the consumers in the moment of purchase, when they are given choices for off-setting initiatives. One might think no one ever looks at these things when buying an airline ticket, but in fact, many people do, and many also seem to start taking part in these initiatives. Peter mentioned and by domino effect, this initiative has brought to Qantas 30% of more consumers engaged in carbon off-setting reduction. This niche and simple solution that connects buyers and sellers seem then to be an excellent idea to integrate consumers purchase decisions with the products sustainable features. This organically creates more environmentally choices and might just be a transition to a low-carbon economy mindset.
Another hot topic, brought by Justin, was the tax subsidise that he says airlines do have, and he strongly suggests that fuel taxation should be enforced to invest in more research and development. I agree totally that constant research is essential, as there is no just a one-time solution to this problem. The aviation industry evolves every day, and hence solutions need to follow this rate. However, I wonder how fuel taxation can be clearly managed to produce clear results and efficient investments. Aviation’s already heavy fixed cost, fees and other taxes, but lacks clarity about the returns, benefits and investments of such taxes. So this is something that if implemented must be transparent and clearly shared with airlines.
One well-intentioned idea that came up from someone in the audience was that if for example, the UK government committed to reducing the APD, then airlines can commit to switching to power electronic technologies. As I cited before, solutions must be both sustainable and economical to sustain the industry. I actually think this would a good start.
These days, and also due to the low-cost revolution, passengers now take more flights than ever, simply because they are often cheaper or similar priced than other means of transport. It really does make sense to me. How can one incentive people to travel less when there is fierce competition out there that allow them to travel as much as they want for extremely affordable prices? Low-Cost Carriers have not only supplied services for a given demand, but they also gave actually created fresh new demand, and they do that all the time. Their variable-cost-business nature allows them to do so. This is great news for consumers, but no so great for the carbon emissions issue, as they obviously produce more take-off and landings than long haul carriers. Perhaps a minimum price regulation can be implemented y/o enforce here?.
There was another idea that came up in the session, to do with the hub to hub only services, rather than feeder services. However, as you can imagine, doing the only hub to hub journeys would not be economically feasible at all for legacy and network airlines, as I mentioned airline industry is very vulnerable and depends on numerous factors. The current market demands services from and to all size city destinations, including small cities, and therefore feeder flights are a vital part of the air network.
To end this small article summary, I conclude: The three columns of sustainability are Social, Economic and Environmental.
Governments and stakeholders must appropriately manage implementation. In my view, we cannot go back to the old days, aviation has brought enormous advancements to our current world. Furthermore, it is a real challenge to massively and rapidly change consumers’ mindset. No single solution is a solution. The solution is actually a mix of solutions, some of them mentioned in this article. This set of initiatives put together in synergy are the one that can produce a real change: R&D, Electric Power Solutions, and fleet modernization and optimisation, education to change organically mindset and transparency, corporations and investors commitments globally for environment project and constant monitoring of implementation processes.
Thanks a lot for reading
“Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible”. Eddie Rickenbacker
🙏✈️In Love with the air..line industry✈️🙏