The International Air Transport Association (Iata), at its recent seventy-sixth annual general meeting (AGM), passed resolutions reaffirming the global airline industry’s absolute commitment to the safe and sustainable restoration of air transport connectivity, while calling on governments to help the sector survive the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, reopen borders (using testing, not quarantine, to counter the disease) and assist the industry to achieve net zero carbon emissions. Iata represents about 290 airlines around the world, which together are responsible for 82% of global air traffic.
“Covid-19 has devastated the balance sheets of our member airlines and we need continuing government support to enable the aviation industry to restart and rebuild connectivity,” emphasised Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “Without the economic benefits that aviation delivers, the global economic recovery will be much weaker and slower.”
Governments around the world had already provided airlines with support worth $173-billion. But that aid was running out, while the Covid-19 crisis persisted, far exceeding the original expectations about its duration. Iata pointed out that every job in aviation supported 29 other jobs. The sector was a major catalyst for the wider economy.
“More support will be needed to see the industry through,” he stressed. “And it must come in forms that do not further increase debt which has already ballooned from $430-billion in 2019 to $651-billion in 2020.”
Regarding the reopening of borders, Iata pointed out that the Take-off guidance developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO – a specialist agency of the United Nations) provided the basis for a harmonised restart to international air travel through a multilayered approach to safety for both passengers and personnel. The association called on governments to implement the guidance, including the systematic testing of international passengers.
“People want and need global mobility,” he highlighted. “The [ICAO] Take-off measures make flying safe. But border closures, movement restrictions and quarantine measures make travel impossible for most. We must manage how we live with the virus. But that does not have to mean destroying aviation, risking millions of jobs, crippling economies and tearing apart the international social fabric. We could safely open borders today with systematic Covid-19 testing.”
However, after the pandemic is over, the issue of sustainability will remain. The airline industry reasserted its commitment to cutting its net carbon dioxide emissions to half of their 2005 levels by 2050. But the sector is now looking at how it might achieve net zero carbon emissions, and its confidence that this can be done is growing. A key element in cutting aviation’s carbon emissions is the development and commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is produced from sustainable sources such as non-food crops and waste materials. It is a proven technology, so far safety used to power more than 300 000 flights, that can cut lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 80%. It is also scaleable, needing no engine modifications before being used, and it can be mixed with jet fuel as an interim measure. But SAFs currently cost from two to four times more than fossil fuels, and global SAF production currently accounts for only 0.1% of the total aviation fuel used by the world’s airlines.
“We have long known that an energy transition to SAF is the game-changer,” he affirmed. “But energy transitions need government support. The cost of SAF is too high and supplies too limited. This crisis is the opportunity to change that. Putting economic stimulus funds behind the development of a large-scale, competitive SAF market would be a triple win – creating jobs, fighting climate change and sustainability connecting the world.”
At the AGM, it was also announced that De Juniac will be stepping down as director-general and CEO on March 31 next year. He will be replaced, with effect from April 1, 2021, by Willie Walsh, former CEO of International Airlines Group (which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia, among other airlines).