For two days, Istanbul has been the center of the airline community during the 79th Annual General Meeting of IATA. As Director-General Willie Walsh said during the closing press conference, “you can see that the mood of the industry is much more positive than it has been.” The industry will return to profitability this year again in three of six regions, but a number of challenges remain. One of them: getting the message across to the general public that aviation is doing enough on sustainability to meet climate goals. Insight: IATA struggles to get credits for its net-zero strategy.
“A lot of work needs to be done and there are many challenges ahead, but we sit here at the end of this event being optimistic about the future. We are determined to address all those challenges. We are totally committed to meeting our net zero carbon goals in 2050 and we are calling on everybody else to support us on that,” Walsh said. With ‘everybody’, he specifically meant governments, regulators, OEMs, air traffic control, and airports.
The most progress has been made on the measures that were discussed at IATA’s Board of Governors to get to net zero. Walsh said. The airline association announced a set of roadmaps to meet this target, which Walsh believes is credible but very challenging. “There is now a greater appreciation of what we need to do, although there is recognition that this will be extremely tough.”
In a presentation on the final day, IATA said it is optimistic that the overall production of renewable fuel or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will reach 69 billion liters of 55 million tonnes in 2028. Progress has been made in establishing new production facilities, but they are mostly in North America, Europe, and Asia. Other regions are lagging behind.
But there is no visibility that capacity will be enough to meet SAF requirements in 2050 when the airline industry would require 449 billion liters. While 2050 is some years away, it is just 27 years from now. With SAF accounting for 62 percent of the carbon mitigation targets, this is one of the challenges that Walsh is referring to.
Mehmet Nane, vice-president of Pegasus Airlines and Chairman of the IATA Board of Governors in the past year, expects that the industry should and could make good progress on the SAF targets during a special conference in Dubai next November. This conference should further outline initiatives to ramp up production, as has been agreed during last year’s ICAO Summit.
Only industry with net zero targets
While the airline industry is doing everything it can to reduce emissions and get cleaner and greener, it isn’t getting few credits for that from the general public. On the contrary, aviation is increasingly bashed for greenwashing. That’s not getting well with Mehmet Nane: “We would like to buy every drop of SAF if it would be available. We are the only industry in transportation that has targets for 2050. Other industries that produce five times more carbon emissions than us are doing nothing. All the projections and criticism are on us. This is not fair. We ask your (the media) support to show the world that aviation is doing its utmost best.”
“It is not just for the airlines to take on the challenges, it is for the whole ecosystem that needs to be brought together to meet those targets,” added Yvonne Manzi Makalo, the CEO of RwandAir who was elected the Chair of the Board of Governors for the upcoming year.
Walsh mentioned the recent ban on domestic flights under 2.5 hours in France as a real example of greenwashing. The ban covers just three routes from Paris Orly that are no longer operated for some time anyway and have hardly any impact on emission reductions. In contrast, Eurocontrol estimated that forty daily flights have seen their routes increased by 370 kilometers to avoid the strikes by French ATC.
“France is actually harming the environment because of their refusal to accept the ongoing disruption that ATC is causing. That goes way beyond any reduction in CO2 that will be achieved from these three domestic destinations. If France is serious about the environmental concerns, they should be tackling the huge disruption caused to aviation by the closure of French airspace.”
The industry is calling on France to allow for overflights so that the rest of Europe is not disrupted. Last week, Ryanair offered a petition with 1.1 million signatures to the European Commission that called out for the same.
What’s next in Dubai?
IATA has a lot of work today until next year’s AGM in Dubai to make further progress on the challenges, but Willie Walsh says it is too early to tell where he wants to be by then: “It is too early because we need to reflect on the comments that were made. We had a very frank and open discussion within the Board but now need to consult with a wider group of airlines and get feedback from them.”
“Because as we have seen here in Istanbul, the world is not going at a single pace. Different parts of the world are moving at different paces. For us, as a global organization, we have to factor that all in. We want to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the conversation as we move forward because it is critical that we bring everybody together. It is a global problem that requires a global solution.”
Walsh added: “It is not just about SAF. SAF is the single-most contributor to the abatement we require in 2050. SAF will account for 62 percent, so 38 percent will have to come from anything else. That’s why we say that it involves more than just airlines to achieve it. We are not moaning or complaining, airlines are doing a lot less of that this time than during previous times. This is a critical issue and not just an aviation issue.”
“We are two percent of all carbon emissions and we acknowledge that going forward there is not an easy path towards decarbonization and that our contribution will increase as that of others comes down. It will be bloody tough, but you should be acknowledging that we are at least doing something about it and that these guys are determined to press the problem.”
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News and until July 1 2023 in a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.