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Aviation and the environment (in English)

I would like to have a constructive conversation with you about aviation and our environment. I have collected important data from the aviation and environment and other industries, which have been floating around for months now...


These include:

  1. Facts

  2. Aviation commitments to reduce carbon emissions

  3. Public pressure

  4. Business opportunities

Facts

Aviation is a global industry which creates more than 60 million direct jobs. It significantly contributes to the economy and reflects our time - a globally connected world with rapid movements of goods and people. This industry benefits everyone - both on micro and macro levels. Personally, beyond the numbers and statistics, I often see aviation as a whole lifestyle. I can name dozens of people, my friends who dreamed of becoming pilots or are passionate about aviation, including myself.

The Aviation industry represents 2% of the global CO2 emission; that is 900 gigatonnes of CO2, more or less equivalent to the German emissions. According to the studies by The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), our emissions are rising 70% faster than expected. According to the same body, if every person on the planet would take one long haul flight per year, aviation would be the second biggest polluter after China.

However, I believe that the chance of this scenario happening is quite low, taking into consideration the striking disproportion of global air travel and the fact that nowadays almost 80% of traffic (so the emission) is generated by 20% of people coming from developed countries (mostly UK, USA, China, Germany, France). But indeed, the demand for aviation is growing fast. Year by year we fly significantly more passengers, and the new players (China, India), with a rising middle class, are rapidly entering the market.

Through more than 70 years of industry technological developments, we have managed to reduce 80% CO2 emissions per seat kilometer since the first jet was flown. But for how long can we focus solely on the technological development and improvements of our existing systems? According to Eurocontrol, new generation engines can become only 2-3% more efficient compared to our current achievements (when flown on the dedicated level and speed).

The public sees air carriers as the golden goose but the fact is that we operate on thin margins. Our costs are high and we are highly dependent on political and economical situations, which makes us vulnerable as the changes in fuel costs can swing a flight from profit to loss.

On the other hand, our world is warming fast. It is not a matter to believe in climate change or not. It is hard to avoid the difficult problem when, for example, this past summer, Europe was constantly hit by severe heatwaves and, as a result, local news outlets had to advise people to stay home. But maybe it is not a good topic to discuss during the wintertime and long dark evenings? We seem to forget the reason of the discussion. Inland waterway transport on Rhain in 2018 lost 20% of their business due to a dry spring and low water levels in the river. They transport cargo, mostly oil, coal and agriculture products. How many delays and losses must we continue to experience because of weather-related events? How good and effective are our infrastructures in the likely event of an unexpected and stronger weather occurrence?


Aviation commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

In Europe, aviation lays under the EU-ETS regulatory body which regulates intra-european flights. Any operator that emits more than 10.000 tonnes of CO2 buys the credits. It hasn’t been maybe too disturbing in previous years, but when in 2018, the price for a unit went skyrocket, even with free allowances, we had a wow moment.

ICAO is working on introducing the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) program. And, as always, with any politically-based solution, there are many difficulties. Per the requirements mandated by CORSIA, from 2024, every operator (with few exceptions) need to offset their emissions on international flights. Not all of the emissions, but the gap. The difference between the previously reported (estimated) emissions and the actual emitted gases. Will CORSIA be the solution the aviation industry desperately needs or will the opposition of it by many powerful countries destroy its main objectives and goals? Will it be an effective replacement to EU-ETS that currently exists? And, finally, will it be sufficient to neutralize aviation carbon emissions? There are many uncertainties.

Thanks to the Chicago Convention, we don’t pay fuel tax. Aviation was supposed to (a) help rebuild a destroyed world after WWII and (b) contribute to the exponential growth of global economies. So here lays third and probably the most controversial solutions: kerosene tax. Theoretically, aviation tax would raise flight ticket prices thus slowing the demand and, as a consequence, reduce carbon emissions. The logic is quite simple: if you create a fuel tax, airline operators will have to increase their ticket prices putting the economic burden on customers who would, due to the higher ticket prices, fly less. This, in turn, could reduce the number of operating flights each year thus lowering the carbon emission in our skies. Opponents of the fuel tax often ask how will this new tax be spent? What will it be used for? And, if it will be spent on environmental projects?


Public pressure

On one hand, the aviation industry is proud to be a global player; on the other, it makes us much more open to public scrutiny and criticism. We blame Greta that she chose to sail to the USA and, in the process, created a lot of headlines against the industry and our carbon emissions. In my opinion, the world tend to focus on irrelevant and less important issues - whether or not she is being used by the media or by green parties and; if her speech was written by her.

I think that it doesn’t matter. The fact is that Greta opened the public eye on what is written in the IPCC report. It is the people who decide to take action, to take part in the climate strikes, to vote for green parties. Due to “flight shame”, the number of passengers has significantly dropped in Sweden, and on many other routes, for instance: London - Glasgow. Every business has been challenged: textile, steel, including employees climate strikes in tech, google or amazon. More companies are choosing to introduce codes of conduct and green policies. Would the non-sustainable businesses be able to comply with the new standards?

Frankly, I don’t think this is wrong. I would be rather concerned if people with current knowledge, observation and predictions of global warming would remain silent. The questions we need to ask ourselves is how do we react to this and where do we concentrate our energy.


Opportunities

With the warmer world and aviation being seen more as a polluter rather than a global hero, it is my belief that aviation operators have two paths to follow. Path One: we can either become stubborn and wait for the government and public to decide for us what we should do, for instance, ban the business aviation flights from UK airports or implement a high tax. In this path, we will be subjected to increased public scrutiny, criticism, stiff political regulations and redtapes and, possibly, economic problems due to strikes and boycotts.

Path Two: take control and act now! There are plenty of potential solutions just in front of us. These solutions include reducing emission by applying fuel and water efficiency plans to improve our margins and operational efficiency; investing in new technology, such as electrification and hybrid solutions to enhanced ability to retain and motivate employees and attract coming generations; use and support SAJF solutions to limit the CO2 costs and to enhance ability to enter new markets; perform risk assessment to lower operational risks and have greater access to financing and insurance; and, last but not least, offer legit offsetting programs to improve customer loyalty.

As an optimist, I am convinced that the industry operators who choose to act now will win, as there are plenty of solutions out there which can reduce carbon emissions, benefit the environment and, at the same time, increase operators’ bottom lines.

We can Increase Shareholder Value by creating Shared Value, that will protect our brand, planet and future.

Let’s just don’t talk if we need to change, but how we want to do it and act now.



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