• Wed. Sep 21st, 2022

Sustainability leaders lead the airline industry’s net zero load | In depth

ByKimberly A. Brochu

May 9, 2022

As the airline industry prepares to achieve its net zero goals, more carriers are appointing executives responsible for sustainability efforts.

This reflects the growing prominence of an issue that now tends to be among the most talked about topics in boardrooms and at industry events – and with outsiders when asked about the biggest challenges. of aviation.

FlightGlobal spoke to three airline sustainability leaders to learn about their backgrounds, the steps they are able to take today, what the biggest challenges ahead are and how they think the industry can ultimately achieve their goals.

Their responses reflect the fact that on many topics the industry agrees – including the importance of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and the desire to avoid taxation becoming the default government lever to make to the environmental impacts of airlines.

Indeed, for most carriers and industry bodies that have so far proposed pathways to net zero, SAF is responsible for much of the effort. The speed at which operators are jumping on the tiny amount of SAF available today is a reflection of this.

On other topics, however, there are differences of opinion. Some airlines tout their current investments in new aircraft as worthy of praise in the context of sustainability. Some are big on carbon offsetting as leverage to achieve goals. Others focus on operational efficiency and cite the importance of initiatives such as the Single European Sky. A few are big on investments in advanced technologies.

At the same time, many share the fear that airlines could be penalized competitively by acting early on sustainability.

And many agree that ICAO, national policymakers, regulators, airports and the energy industry will play a crucial role in ensuring that change happens.

Most airlines hedge their bets.

There is also a fundamental question about how sustainability is handled by the industry. Should it be like safety, where the issue is deemed too important for airlines to compete on?

Environmental impact of airline emissions

And how exactly should the individual performance of an airline be assessed? Is agreeing to an industry-standard set of metrics the way to go?

Furthermore, is it necessary to defend the environmental impact of industry when it is variously estimated at 2-3% of global emissions? Does he get a bad deal and should he do more to push back?

Then there is the question of what are the stakes for the industry. A few years ago, it was probably not the prevailing view that sustainability was an existential issue – a crisis, even. Today, that has changed.

Voices such as United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby have been instrumental in spreading the debate far beyond Europe, where the “flight shaming” movement no longer looks like a niche concept. .

And what happens next, over the next five to ten years? Will this period be one of the challenges for airline public relations amid a lack of concrete progress available on the necessary advances?

For this and other reasons, most stakeholders agree that achieving net zero goals will not be easy.