Despite financial crisis, environment remains a crucial issue for airlines


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – The economic crisis has a strong impact on airlines activity according to the latest forecasts issued by IATA during its annual conference in Kuala Lumpur.

“We are experiencing the deepest recession of post-war times with an unprecedented collapse in revenues. Yields are declining dramatically and worst of all, Premium fares are declining quicker than fares in economy class as the business market is shrinking,” says Brian Pierce, IATA chief economist.

Pierce predicts that traffic might remain sharply depressed until at least 2010 as consumers will first reduce their debt exposure before thinking of travelling again. “We predict a L-shaped recovery for the years to come,” he said during IATA financial press conference.

However, gloomy economic perspectives do not deter IATA to turn aviation into a carbon-neutral industry by year 2020. In front of some 500 industry leaders, Giovanni Bisignani, IATA director-general and CEO, announced that IATA will put a global cap on its emissions from 2020, which corresponds to a carbon neutral growth. “We are the first global industry in the world to take such a bold step,” highlighted Bisignani.

This means that IATA will from now improve fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent per annum until 2020. From this date, growth of traffic will not anymore be accompanied by a growth in emissions. Even better, IATA already announced its goal to reduce by 50 percent its emissions by 2050. This year, total carbon-foot print from air carriers is estimated to go down by 7 percent.

“However, 5 percent alone will come from frequencies reduction due to the crisis. But our emissions should remain below 2005 levels until at least 2012/2013,” predicts Paul Steele, director Aviation Environment IATA.

After lacking communication on the environment subject for decades, IATA now wants to release a strong message of being a responsible industry. The association has launched a series of initiatives to improve the industry performance.

“We rely to succeed on four pillars: Technology investment, Operations with a more efficient way to fly, Infrastructure improvement and the Use of effective economic measures,” says Steele.

The introduction of new aircraft with modern technologies helps to reduce efficiently emissions by 25 percent to 30 percent. IATA works with other aviation governmental bodies to improve flying procedures and air control systems. More direct air routes help to reduce flight time and distance, shorter aircraft approach for landing reduce delays and fuel burning. All airports around the world should simplify procedures until 2016 with already a target of 30 percent of all airports in 2010. IATA is supporting a new landing procedure called “Continuous Descent Arrivals”, which can save between 150 and 630 kg CO2 per flight. Already implemented at 29 airports, it should include 100 European airports by 2013.

“We feel also very excited about new possibilities offered by Low Carbon Fuels. For the first time in aviation history, we can envision aircraft flying in complete safety with a something else than exclusively kerosene,” adds Steele.

Research on second-generation bio-fuels look promising as they generate high energy yields. “By using algae or Jatropha, we ensure the sustainability of the planet as these plants’ culture requests little land and water use,” says IATA director for the environment. Steele hopes for a certification of bio-fuels by 2011 with many airlines conducting tests for the time being. IATA hopes that more will be invest in the research to find serious fuel alternatives.

The association also hopes that governments will look at the airline industry at global and not at state level. “We are a global player and a global approach is needed. We believe that we are responsible for our emissions and we are ready to pay for this. However we do not want to pay more than necessary as many governments try to do,” says Steele.

IATA is eager to point out that new environment taxes on airlines have in fact little to do to really serve the environmental cause. “These taxes just help to balance national budgets,” explains the IATA director. But it is not sure that governments will all listen for IATA’s plead. After all, air passengers are not necessarily voters.