Asian airlines focus on restart, sustainability

388 of Asian airlines attending the 65th Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA)  Assembly of Presidents conducted virtually on 12 November 2021 announced they were committed to helping the industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its near shutdown of traffic in the region and also committed themselves to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Airlines like Singapore Air have had to ground thousands of planes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and near shutdown of international aviation. (PHOTO: Steve Strike/Outback Photographics)

In September 2021, AAPA committed to an ambitious goal of net-zero carbon emissions reduction by 2050, by working with governments, airports, fuel suppliers, air navigation services and equipment manufacturers. The hope to achieve the cuts using a combination of technology, operational efficiency improvements, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and a global market-based measure, namely the ICAO Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). While the goal is commendable, most scientists agree that 2050 is too late a date for the move to have a real impact on the environment and airlines recovering from a pandemic will be hard pressed to find the money to spend on climate improvement measures.

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AAPA’s membership includes Air Astana, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Eva Air, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.

Subhas Menon, director general of AAPA said, “The aviation industry is committed to reducing its carbon footprint in a responsible manner. However, we are conscious of the challenges ahead of us. Facilities for producing SAF are severely lacking in Asia-Pacific compared to other regions. Taxes, onerous regulations and other penalties would only increase the cost of travel without any benefit to the environment. Conversely, government incentives and investment would contribute to the effective development of sustainable fuels and new energy sources to bolster the industry’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. We encourage governments to fully participate in CORSIA and support its global implementation,” Menon said, “as the single most effective measure for addressing emissions in international aviation. This will enable the airline industry to continue growing in a sustainable manner, in line with the commitment to net zero emissions.”

Singapore Airlines hopes the government’s new Vaccinated Travel Lanes will bring people back to flying. A lone student waits to say goodbye to a friend in a nearly deserted departure hall. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Even though the recovery of the global economy and air travel demand is underway, international passenger volumes across Asia Pacific remain deeply depressed. International traffic in Asia Pacific is at 6 percent of pre-pandemic levels compared to an average of 40 percent in other regions, the association said following its meeting. While strong air cargo demand provides some financial relief, it is insufficient to mitigate the losses from the significantly reduced commercial passenger operations for the region’s airlines. The Asia-Pacific region lags other regions in the reopening of borders and easing of restrictions on air travel. The air transport sector accounts for US$944billion of Asia Pacific GDP, with the region accounting for more than 50 percent of the 88 million employed in the industry globally. Indeed, the social and economic impact of the pandemic is felt more deeply in Asia than elsewhere.

Noting that prolonged border closures have resulted in unprecedented damage particularly to the travel and tourism sectors, the Assembly of Presidents called on governments to restore global connectivity and reopen borders swiftly to reunite families, as well as revive trade and commerce. “Many communities in the region are dependent on aviation as an essential means of transportation and source of livelihood,” Menon said. “AAPA applauds the efforts of governments to accelerate the vaccination of their populations and gradually ease travel restrictions. It is hoped that quarantine requirements will be progressively lifted, with air travel made accessible to a wider segment of the population, such as those who have recovered from COVID infections. The industry has already embraced all health measures recommended by ICAO and WHO to keep air travel safe for passengers and crew, with the risk of onboard transmission being widely accepted as being very low.”

The recent ICAO High Level Conference on COVID-19 declared its support for the resilience of air transport, as well as to rebuild the aviation sector from the pandemic as soon as possible. AAPA said. Underlining that the establishment of quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes is a positive first step, the AAPA Assembly of Presidents called for a robust multilateral framework with mutually recognised protocols for vaccination, testing and identification together with other mitigation measures recommended by ICAO, to restart air travel safely and efficiently. AAPA also called on governments to collaborate with industry stakeholders to rebuild travel confidence including the adoption of digital tools for air travel so as to reduce delays, congestion and inconvenience to the travelling public. These initiatives will pave the way for a smooth and sustained recovery of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry while COVID-19 is endemic.

“AAPA supports an inclusive approach to international air travel that allows a broader segment of the travelling public to travel by air, subject to objective risk-based health measures that reduce complexity and confusion for travellers,” Menon said. “Vaccination levels are still low in some countries due to shortages of supplies and resources. Nevertheless, we should build on the resilience of aviation to gradually restore international air services as soon as possible. The outlook for aviation is improving as governments are determined to reopen their economies. AAPA airlines remain fully committed to partnering with governments and industry stakeholders on the shared mission of restoring global connectivity and building a future for aviation that is resilient, sustainable, safe and secure.”

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