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Alexandre de Juniac

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Environment 17 October 2017

CORSIA One Year On – Just The Start Of The Journey To Sustainable Flight

The recent ATAG Environment Summit was a good reminder that a year has passed since states attending the 39th ICAO Assembly agreed to CORSIA—the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.

The CORSIA agreement was my first "up close" experience of ICAO at work. And it was impressive to see CORSIA agreed and the almost immediate commitment of some 72 states to join the voluntary period. These included big aviation actors like the US, China, and the EU states as well as smaller players with an understanding of CORSIA's importance—Burkina Faso, El Salvador and the Marshall Islands among them.

CORSIA is agreed, but there is a lot of work still be done to make it a reality. Feverish work is being done to sort out the technical details so that airlines and governments are all ready to implement. And, although we have covered about 80% of anticipated growth with states that have already volunteered, we continue to encourage more states to join—particularly India and Russia.

Even as we prepare for CORSIA it is important to remember that our ultimate intention is to achieve real emissions reductions within aviation—rather than relying on offsets that reflect reductions in other sectors. Our aims are to stabilize emissions from 2020 with carbon-neutral growth, and by 2050 to cut net emissions to half 2005 levels.

Two areas are at the top of the priority list for this: the commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and improvements in air traffic management. Both need governments to match investments that airlines have made.

Each day airlines safely operate 140 flights on SAF made from fully sustainable sources, i.e. that don't deplete natural resources or disturb the ecological balance. But available SAF volumes are low, and that keeps the price high. That's where governments must do more. Why don't they match the aggressive incentives for automotive biofuels with equal efforts on SAF?

It is a similar story with air traffic management. Aircraft have powerful avionics that can manoeuver with near perfect efficiency from origin to destination. But we can only use a fraction of their capabilities because we operate in air traffic management systems conceived decades ago. The result: delays, longer journey times and unnecessary carbon emissions.

What's the role of governments? It's to help achieve the potential efficiencies of modern technology. And that needs planning. To set an example, we recently signed agreements with France and Poland to work together on national airspace strategies. As this work expands to more states, these national building blocks will lead to global environmental efficiencies, not to mention increased capacity, reduced noise, and more competitive connectivity.

With passenger numbers set to double in the next 20 years, finding a sustainable future for air travel is both challenging and essential. The ATAG Summit demonstrated that the aviation industry is working together to find real solutions. But governments must come to the table with an even broader supportive policy framework. CORSIA was a historic step in the right direction that we are working hard to realize. But there is much more to do!

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