More cooperation and better communication is the theme at aviation industry summit on environment
From left: James P. Leape, Director General WWF International; Tom Enders, President & CEO, Airbus; Willie Walsh, CEO, BA; Scott Carson, President & CEO, Boeing Comm. Airplanes; James C. Cherry, Chairman, ACI; Greg Russell, CEO, Airservices Australia
Fri 25 Apr 2008 – It is rare to see so many aviation industry leaders gathered together at one event but the Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva managed to achieve this feat. It might be argued that it had less to do with environmental concern and more to do with the steeply rising price of oil, which continues to set record levels as it bites deeply into airline profitability. Airlines and, by extension, their aircraft and engine suppliers, together with air navigation service providers, are anxious for technological solutions to reduce fuel burn.
It is by no means a new quest – the industry has focused on reducing aircraft noise and increasing fuel efficiency for over 30 years. However, the double imperative of rising fuel prices and mounting environmental concerns over aviation emissions is driving the argument that action is needed and, preferably, fast. There is also a considerable dilemma to consider: aviation emissions are rising – as a result of an average 5% annual growth in passenger traffic – faster than technology gains can mitigate them. The industry is keen – and it is fair argument to put this perspective forward – to point out that aviation accounts for only 2% of total global GHG emissions. Unfortunately, the proportion is predicted to rise substantially and environmentalists and even politicians are now hot on the industry’s heels.
Against this backdrop, over 450 delegates arrived in Geneva to find solutions to this rapidly growing problem. Presidents and CEOs representing airlines, airports, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and the airframe and engine manufacturers presented their visions for a cleaner, more efficient industry. The general theme that came out after two days of presentations and debate was that the industry needed to work together more and communicate its message better.
Alexander ter Kuile, Secretary General of CANSO, an association representing ANSPs, reminded delegates that when the Summit was last held two years ago, he suggested the aviation industry might become the next “tobacco industry”.
“I posed this question, as above all, aviation must maintain public confidence and trust if politicians are to permit our industry to grow and develop,” he said. “Thus far, governments have supported the growth of air transport but, increasingly, public sentiment about climate change is making politicians think twice.”
He believed the Summit’s organizers, ATAG, had succeeded in coordinating the industry message and “returning some balance, or at least accuracy, into an increasingly harsh and often ill-informed debate”.
“But a tough question remains,” he continued, “is it enough? Are we, the aviation industry, doing enough to maintain public confidence in aviation’s continued development or is all just veneer – are we just ‘window-dressing’? I am convinced we are not, but does the public know?
“If we are to maintain public trust, we will have to be highly ethical, fully transparent and very honest with ourselves. We will have to admit that, today, our industry is still increasing CO2 production. Therefore, we must ask ourselves if we can do more, and the answer can only be yes, we can.
“The fundamentals of aviation are currently changing forever. Life will never be the same again, and all of us must adjust to a new reality. For in addition to the clear signs of climate change, world prices for fossil fuels, energy, raw materials and food are shifting, most likely permanently, and changing the basic ground rules of our society, but especially for our industry.
“Therefore, we must unite and stand ready to commit on measures and targets that will help us to achieve a carbon neutral future. Most importantly, we must together be ready to make this commitment to society. Only then can we be confident of gaining society’s permission to proceed with the growth of our beloved aviation industry.”
Speaking on behalf of airports, Robert J. Aaronson, Director General , Airports Council International (ACI) told delegates: “Despite best efforts, airports can find themselves under heavy fire from environmental protestors, as we saw at Heathrow last summer. Airports are easy to reach and to target, so it is not surprising that we have seen radical accusations crystallising into militant action right on our doorstep.
“What is more worrying is that many of the accusations levelled at the industry are based on false assumptions and misinformation that tend to make travellers feel guilty and create a public perception that is warped. So it is our job collectively to set the facts straight – acknowledging aviation’s impact and explaining our solutions.
“In conjunction with this debate, we must also set an example and achieve measurable targets. At airports, we are accelerating the implementation of initiatives that minimize impact on the environment – emissions, noise and air quality being top airport priorities.
“What we don’t yet have is one airport bringing together all of the possible environmental initiatives to be a totally green airport. But we have a number that are approaching this objective. The point is that airports are employing a huge range of diverse and innovative environmental projects.
“At our ACI annual assembly in 2007, airport members unanimously approved a resolution to focus on specific target areas at each of their facilities to reduce environmental impact, and called for a move towards carbon neutral airports. This is a reasonable and achievable goal – already accomplished by at least two of our members in Sweden and New Zealand and committed to by around ten more.”
Tom Enders, President and CEO of Airbus, was critical of “well-meaning but misinformed and short-sighted campaigners”. He described them as “dangerous” as they “hurt the very people they aim to help”, for example developing countries which rely on air transport to export agricultural produce or attract tourism. He called on governments to incentivize carriers to upgrade ageing and fuel-inefficient fleets rather than making it harder for them through imposing taxes, saying there were over 3,500 older generation aircraft still in service.
His counterpart and rival at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Scott Carson, told delegates: “Today, we have the very real opportunity to demonstrate our technical prowess as an industry and help define the legacy of flying for generations to come. We at Boeing are up for the challenge, and I am convinced that together, we can succeed at this. We can find ways to be quieter and cleaner.
“As an industry, we are good global citizens. But we’ve done a terrible job of telling our story. We must continue to work collaboratively to identify innovative new solutions and help guide them to fruition. Then we must do a better job of telling our story, again and again.
“Working together we can identify solutions and approaches that can help our industry address environmental challenges regardless of geographical markets – and in the process result in a healthier, more environmentally progressive aviation industry that delivers value to all of us and everyone that depends on the global air transportation system.”
From an airline perspective, Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways, said: “Airlines are routinely accused of being selfish or even sinful organisations with little concern for their environmental impact. The tone of this coverage is perhaps not quite so hysterical as it was 12 or 18 months ago – as we and others have succeeded in improving media understanding of aviation’s relative share of global greenhouse gases.
“But the issue remains very high on the political and media agenda. Which underlines the absolute necessity of maintaining our focus on improving our environmental performance – and on being less reticent in talking about it.”
As the lone representative from outside the industry, James P. Leape, Director General of WWF International, said it was imperative that the average increase in global temperature over pre-industrial levels had to be kept below 2 degrees C. In order to achieve this, GHG emissions have to be reduced by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 and have peaked and started to decline by 2020. He said European Union carbon emission reduction targets could not be met without overall reductions in aviation emissions.
Although aviation might only be responsible for 2% of global CO2, Leape said that other non-CO2 effects multiply the impact of aviation emissions, emissions were higher in developed countries and the sector had been growing very fast – up 90% since 1990. “Ultimately, aviation emissions have to come down, that’s the bottom line.”
He said an urgent effort was needed to increase efficiency but had been encouraged by what he had heard at the conference and believed there was potential for significant gains to be made. “Let me emphasise that aviation must be part of a global solution. This is an issue that will only be successfully addressed if we all come together to meet the challenge. The aviation industry needs to be actively engaged in the UNFCCC climate negotiations and support the inclusion of aviation in national or sectoral targets, as well as its inclusion in a global carbon market.
“Climate change is the defining challenge of our century. Aviation is already a significant issue and its significance will grow over the coming years. There are solutions but we need to be pushing very hard, very aggressively in bringing down total emissions.”
A common message from speakers during the two days was that there was no ‘silver bullet’ answer to reducing aviation’s carbon footprint but it was encouraging to see so many taking a serious interest in attempting to tackle the challenge. The Summit’s organizers have already decided to increase the frequency of the previously bi-annual event and hold the fourth Summit next year.