With the impact of the Omicron travel restrictions heavily impacting travel, it is looking like a tough start to 2022.But it isn’t all doom and gloom. One metric is heading in the right direction - and faster than many expected. It is the airlines' commitment to sustainability. In October, 2021, the IATA Board of Governors approved a net zero emissions target by 2050.
Make no mistake, reaching net zero emissions in less than three decades is a massive task for an industry which is extremely difficult to decarbonize.
Measuring our progress
One way is to look at our overall commitment to sustainability. Almost a decade ago we launched the IATA Environmental Assessment program (IEnvA). It is a system designed to independently assess and improve the environmental management of an airline.
It identifies the environmental impact and risks and provides the tools to check an airline's sustainability commitment. The programme covers all aspects of sustainability from CO2 and NOx emissions to single-use plastics to cabin waste to biodiversity (animal trafficking).
It can be big issues like carbon emissions, reducing single-use plastics in the cabin, strengthening sustainability in airline procurement chains and building clear and objective sustainability reports.Or niche projects like finding a solution for bird strikes that airlines face when flying routes across the Andes to Europe at certain times of the year.
Rigorous review of sustainability commitments
Airlines that sign up carry out a rigorous review of their sustainability commitments. The process begins with the buy-in of the CEO and board, and filters down through all aspects of an airline's operations. It is based on the ISO14000 environmental management standard and covers all flight operations and activities on the ground and in the air in every country in which the airline operates. The full implementation and review can take between six and 18 months. Every two years the process is audited by independent third-party experts and the airline is then IEnvA certified.
Surge of interest for IENVA
Five years ago just five airlines had signed up, but in the past 24 months there has been a surge of interest. A total of 35 airlines have now joined or are in the final stages of joining and many more are expressing interest. There is a degree of enlightened self-interest at work here. There is no standard certification or management system in the aviation industry which covers all aspects of environmental management compliance, and investors and stakeholders increasingly expect to see a sustainability management program in place at an airline. An IEnvA certification offers that qualification.
But the fact that we have seen such a sharp increase in the adoption of IEnvA despite a critical squeeze on finances in the industry is heartening. Many airlines are now re-purposing staff whose jobs have been affected by the Covid-related downturn to setting up and executing the program.
We decided early on that a key to making IEnvA successful and relevant for airlines was to ensure engagement and buy-in from senior management. Under the program the CEO and board have to be made aware of the environmental issues their airline faces.
Environment and sustainability are center stage for our industry. Any airline that does not have a robust plan on sustainability risks being on the wrong side of public opinion. We have to be part of the solution and IEnvA is a very good place to start, whether an airline is taking its first steps on its sustainability journey or is an established player in the aviation sustainability space.