by Sebastian Mikosz, IATA's Senior Vice President for Member and External Relations
In the last few months, I’ve had little occasion to feel energized or optimistic about our industry, living through a devastating pandemic that, amongst all industries, has hit aviation the hardest. The latest ATAG Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders report reveals that we will potentially lose 4.8 million jobs in aviation, not counting the tremendous ripple effect on other sectors such as tourism and hospitality.
And yet, I am just stepping out of a global event - the 2020 Global Sustainable Aviation Forum - that made me feel hopeful for the first time in a long while.
Here are three reasons why.
I admit, I did wonder if – at a moment when so many airlines, airports or manufacturers are struggling for their very survival - we would succeed in even getting our members to participate in this year’s Forum.
But in the end more than 500 professionals, among them the most influential figures in our industry, joined us for the ATAG virtual event. It is clear proof of the importance of sustainability to our industry. All along, there was a sense of strong alignment amongst industry leaders that culminated in a joint statement placing long-term climate action at the same level of priority as economic recovery. That is an important sign and a good reason to feel energized, because without industry-wide efforts we can never reach our ambitious climate targets.
During the Forum, I had the opportunity to listen to experts working on radical new technologies, such as new concepts of emissions-free commercial aircraft. We discussed ambitious plans to scale up the production and use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, which not only emits over 80% less CO2 over its life cycle but can be immediately fed in aircraft, without modifying jet engines or building new infrastructure. These are only a few of the existing solutions in the aviation “toolbox” that can help make a sharp but smooth turn towards greater sustainability. A good reason to feel optimistic about the future.
As a result of 18 months of efforts by more than 70 industry experts, ATAG released the Waypoint 2050 Report, a set of potential pathways towards achieving the decarbonization of air transport. It clearly shows we can achieve our stated target of cutting emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050. What’s more, with the right support from government and researchers, it will be possible to reach net-zero CO2 emissions for our industry by around 2060 at a global level – and in some regions earlier than that. That is enormously significant. But make no mistake, these targets present enormous challenges, both technical and political. As Waypoint 2050 suggests, the next decade will be critical for our success in the longer run. We will need the right help from governments, to ensure the scaling up of SAF and operational efficiencies in the air, we need the support of energy producers and we need the creativity of our engineers.
Of course, in the immediate future we have to make sure we still have a viable industry. We have to restore as many of the 4.8 million lost jobs in aviation as we can by reconnecting the world. To do that travellers need stability so they can plan to fly again. And by stability, I mean governments need avoiding random quarantine measures and the constantly changing list of acceptable and unacceptable destinations.
But as I look at the sustainability challenges we face, I also look to see where we have come from. We have made enormous progress over the past 10 years. That is who we are. We innovate and we deliver. Remember, we were one of the first sectors to globally unite around a carbon emissions target. If we keep that unity, we can achieve powerful progress – and I for one am energized and optimistic that we can, for our sake, for our children’s sake, and for the future of the planet.