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September 2009
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Plane Talking

The only industry with a global strategy

Today, a group of airline chief executives will sit down with government and environment leaders at the UN in New York at one of a series of pre-events before December’s Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen.

By all accounts, the negotiations for the next Kyoto Protocol are not going as well as they should be and today’s event has been described as ‘shock therapy’ for getting the stalled talks going again. The aviation industry also hopes that, this time, we will be included in the international agreement. So today in New York, industry leaders such as Willie Walsh from British Airways and Mats Jansson from SAS will be presenting the industry’s plan for dealing with our emissions.

Importantly, this plan is from across the aviation industry. While airlines will be in the room today in New York, the plan is backed by airports (through ACI), airlines (through IATA), air navigation service providers (through CANSO) and aircraft and engine manufacturers (through ICCAIA). This is, as far as we know, the only global industry able to stand up together and point to one plan for dealing with our emissions.

So what is our plan?

  • From 2020, we will cap emissions – CO2 from aviation will continue to grow until 2020, at which point it will be capped.
  • In an aspirational goal, by 2050, we will work towards producing half the net emissions we produced in 2005 – the equivalent of around 320 million tonnes of CO2.

So, how can we achieve this while passenger numbers continue to grow? The reductions come from a number of areas which all begin to add up to some significant savings. Early last year, the entire sector signed up to the Aviation Industry Commitment to Action on Climate Change. This document layed out a four-pillar approach which will see reductions through technology, operations, infrastructure and economic measures.

In the technology section, for example, replacing old aircraft with newer, more efficient places will reduce emissions by 21% over ‘business as usual’ in 2020. The introduction of sustainable biofuels could shave off a further 5% (based on a low but realistic penetration of biofuel into the jet fuel supply – with governments really getting behind a sustainable biofuel industry, this could bring a bigger saving).

The huge range of operational measures available to the industry, such as reduced auxiliary power unit usage, more efficient flight procedures, and weight reduction measures, could achieve another 3% cut in emissions.

An additional 4% cut in emissions will come from improving the efficiency of air traffic control through government-led infrastructure projects such as NextGen in the USA and Single European Sky in Europe.

And the rest? To ‘plug the gap’ once we have reduced emissions as much as we can, the industry will need to engage in economic measures. This could include, for example, emissions trading. But whatever form this part takes, the industry is united in agreement that it must be worldwide in nature. Doing things country-by-country, or one region at a time causes competitive distortion and doesn’t provide a global solution for what is the most global of industries.

The most exciting announcement (and the most immediately challenging) from my point of view is for us to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020. It will require an enormous effort by everyone across the industry (from aerodynamic specialists to ramp agents, pilots to chief executives and everyone in between), but our industry rarely shies away from a challenge. And we are up for this one!