By Tony Tyler, IATA's Director General and CEO
The northern summer travel season is a good reminder of how connected aviation has made our world. In the months of July and August this year we can expect some 600 million travelers to board an aircraft. To put that into perspective, it is the equivalent of taking the entire population of the United States somewhere, and then returning them home safely over the course of 60 days. By any measure, that’s an amazing achievement. Global passenger numbers are expected to top 3 billion this year. And over 50 million tonnes of high value cargo shipments will be delivered by air. This would not happen without advances in technology.
Behind the statistics are millions of stories of real people. They are flying to re-connect with friends and family, do business, learn, volunteer for good causes, attend meetings, discover the world, seek medical treatment, exchange ideas and a whole lot more. Go to any airport arrivals hall and the important role of air transport in our modern connected world is clear.
Fulfilling this role, however, comes with many challenges. For example, we must constantly improve safety while accommodating ever-increasing demand for connectivity. There is a constant battle with volatile costs, especially fuel. National regulation often creates disconnects in a global system. And, like all industries, air transport must ensure its environmental sustainability.
The industry’s track record of achievement on technical issues is solid. But finding solutions for those with a political dimension can often be more of a struggle. The industry’s approach to sustainability illustrates the point.
The aviation industry is united in its commitment to achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 (CNG 2020). Progress on technical solutions is impressive. For example, manufacturers are marketing aircraft with significantly improved fuel efficiency. And airlines are planning fleet investments in the range of $4 to $5 trillion over the next two decades that will improve both financial and environmental performance.
But it is a very different situation when political solutions are needed. The situation with air traffic management is revealing. Airlines have invested in advanced avionics to fly more efficiently. But the capabilities are not being utilized to their fullest. The biggest stumbling block is Europe’s failure to implement the Single European Sky. This adds some EUR 5 billion annually to the cost of connectivity in Europe and causes millions of tonnes of unnecessary carbon emissions each year. Why? Europe’s national governments are dragging their feet in pushing forward much needed reforms.
It is a similar situation with the introduction of sustainable biofuels. Some 1,500 commercial flights have proved that biofuels have the potential to be a real alternative. But, by and large, governments have not provided the political support for greater uptake with policies that would de-risk the investments needed to achieve commercial production levels.
In a few weeks, governments will have an opportunity to change the record when the ICAO Assembly considers the adoption of market-based measures (MBM) to help manage aviation’s carbon footprint. Agreement on a global approach to MBM is critical to meeting the CNG 2020 commitment. The 69th IATA Annual General Meeting overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for governments to adopt mandatory carbon offsetting as the mechanism while ensuring fairness among fast and slow growing airlines.
This keeps airlines in the forefront of industries tackling climate change. And as policy-makers join the millions traveling between now and the Assembly, I hope that they will be reminded of the importance of supporting aviation’s sustainability with a global mandatory offsetting scheme.