The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has made a raft of agreements and issued calls for change to the airline industry including calling on governments to reopen borders closed because of COVID-19. The industry also committed itself to carbon-neutrality by 2050, decried planned increases in air navigation charges and airport charges as well as delivering awards for “diversity”.
IATA issued a call for an end to what it said were “wildly inconsistent COVID-19 travel restrictions that are stalling the recovery of air transport” and urged governments to implement simplified regimes to manage the risks of COVID-19 as borders re-open to international travel. “Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh. “Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. COVID-19 is present in all parts of the world. Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them. And there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they create.”
Testing results for UK arriving passengers demonstrate that travellers are not adding risk to the local population. “Of the three million arrivals between February and August only 42,000 tested positive, or fewer than 250 a day. Meanwhile, the daily case count in the UK is 35,000 and the economy, apart from international travel, is wide open. People should be just as free to travel,” said Walsh.
In the last months, several key markets that had previously been closed have taken steps to open to vaccinated travellers. Among markets that were previously closed, Europe was an early mover, followed by Canada, the UK, the US and Singapore. Even Australia, which has some of the most draconian restrictions, is taking steps to re-open its borders to vaccinated travellers by November. IATA said it supports these moves and encourages all governments to consider the following framework for re-opening borders:
- Vaccines should be made available to all as quickly as possible;
- Vaccinated travellers should not face any barriers to travel;
- Testing should enable those without access to vaccines to travel without quarantine;
- Antigen tests are the key to cost-effective and convenient testing regimes;
- Governments should pay for testing, so it does not become an economic barrier to travel.
“There is far too much complexity in the way borders are re-opening. The potential for a global re-connect could be hijacked by bureaucracies favouring stand-alone “made-at-home” solutions over approaches that work across borders,” said Walsh. “Europe has made a good start. The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) is an efficient and reliable standard to record test and vaccination status. If governments are looking for a standard to follow, this is our recommendation. And if governments are looking for a ready-made solution to manage travel health credentials using e-gates, IATA Travel Pass is a solution. Irrespective of government use, an automated solution is essential for airlines. They will need to manage documentation verification using automated check-ins. If not, airport wait times and congestion will skyrocket as travel volumes increase. After extensive testing, it’s great to see IATA Travel Pass entering regular operations,” said Walsh.
IATA commits to net-zero carbon emissions
IATA also approved a resolution for the global air transport industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This commitment will align with the Paris Agreement goal for global warming not to exceed 1.5°C, although most scientists involved in climate research are now warning that may be too little too late.
“The world’s airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable. The post-COVID-19 re-connect will be on a clear path towards net zero. That will ensure the freedom of future generations to sustainably explore, learn, trade, build markets, appreciate cultures and connect with people the world over. With the collective efforts of the entire value chain and supportive government policies, aviation will achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” said IATA’s Walsh.
Achieving net zero emissions will be a huge challenge, IATA said. The aviation industry must progressively reduce its emissions while accommodating the growing demand of a world that is eager to fly. To be able to serve the needs of the ten billion people expected to fly in 2050, at least 1.8 gigatons of carbon must be abated in that year. Moreover, the net zero commitment implies that a cumulative total of 21.2 gigatons of carbon will be abated between now and 2050. A key immediate enabler is the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This will stabilize international emissions at 2019 levels in the short-to-medium term. CORSIA itself is controversial though because environmental groups have called it a “licence to pollute” that does nothing to actually cut carbon emissions.
“Achieving sustainable global connectivity cannot be accomplished on the backs of airlines alone,” Walsh added. “All parts of the aviation industry must work together within a supportive government policy framework to deliver the massive changes that are needed, including an energy transition. That is no different than what we are seeing in other industries. Road transport sustainability efforts, for example, are not being advanced by drivers building electric vehicles. Governments are providing policies and financial incentives for infrastructure providers, manufacturers and car owners to be able to collectively make the changes needed for a sustainable future. The same should apply to aviation.
“We have a plan,” Walsh said. “The scale of the industry in 2050 will require the mitigation of 1.8 gigatons of carbon. A potential scenario is that 65 percent of this will be abated through sustainable aviation fuels. We would expect new propulsion technology, such as hydrogen, to take care of another 13 percent. And efficiency improvements will account for a further 3 percent. The remainder could be dealt with through carbon capture and storage (11 percent) and offsets (8 percent). The actual split, and the trajectory to get there, will depend on what solutions are the most cost-effective at any particular time. Whatever the ultimate path to net zero will be, it is absolutely true that the only way to get there will be with the value chain and governments playing their role,” said Walsh.
What Walsh failed to mention is that there is not nearly enough hydrogen, especially green hydrogen, available to fuel the world’s commercial fleet. A recent estimate by engine maker Pratt & Whitney showed that if you took all the hydrogen available in the world today, it would only fuel about 10 percent of the global commercial fleet. Add in the need to transform the entire fuelling infrastructure of the world’s airports and the cost to actually switch to green hydrogen – made from renewable sources – runs into the trillions of dollars, according to Pratt & Whitney.
“There will be those who say that we face impossible numbers and technical challenges. Aviation has a history of realising what was thought to be impossible—and doing so quickly. From the first commercial flight to the first commercial jet was about 35 years. And twenty years on we had the first jumbo jet. Sustainability is the challenge of our generation. And today we are launching a transition that is challenging. But in 30 years it is also within reach of human ingenuity, provided governments and the whole industry work together and hold each other accountable for delivery,” said Walsh.
Airport/ANSP charges are ‘outrageous’
IATA said that planned increases in charges by airports and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) will stall recovery in air travel and damage international connectivity. Confirmed airport and ANSP charges increases have already reached US$2.3 billion. Further increases could be 10 times this number if proposals already tabled by airports and ANSPs are granted, IATA officials said. “A US$2.3 billion charges increase during this crisis is outrageous. We all want to put COVID-19 behind us. But placing the financial burden of a crisis of apocalyptic proportions on the backs of your customers, just because you can, is a commercial strategy that only a monopoly could dream up. At an absolute minimum, cost reduction, not charges increases, must be top of the agenda for every airport and ANSP. It is for their customer airlines,” said IATA’s Walsh.
A case in point is found among European air navigation service providers. Collectively, ANSPs of the 29 Eurocontrol states, the majority of which are state owned, are looking to recoup almost $9.3 billion (€8 billion) from airlines to cover revenues not realized in 2020/2021.They want to do this to recover the revenue and profits they missed when airlines were unable to fly during the pandemic. Moreover, they want to do this in addition to a 40 percent increase planned for 2022 alone.
Other examples include, according to IATA:
- Heathrow Airport pushing to increase charges by over 90 percent in 2022;
- Amsterdam Schiphol Airport requesting to increase charges by over 40 percent over the next three years;
- Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) asking to increase charges by 38 percent in 2022;
- NavCanada increasing charges by 30 percent over five years;
- Ethiopian ANSP raising charges by 35 percent in 2021.
“Today I am ringing the alarm. This must stop if the industry is to have a fair opportunity at recovery. Infrastructure shareholders, governmental or private, have benefited from stable returns pre-crisis. They must now play their part in the recovery. It is unacceptable behaviour to benefit from your customers during good times and stick it to them in bad times. Doing so has broad implications. Air transport is critical to support economic recovery post pandemic. We should not compromise the recovery with the irresponsibility and greed of some of our partners who have not addressed costs or tapped their shareholders for support,” said Walsh.
On the diversity front, IATA announced the winners of the 2nd edition of the IATA Diversity & Inclusion Awards. They include:
- Inspirational Role Model: Harpreet A. de Singh, Executive Director, Air India
- High Flyer Award: Lalitya Dhavala, Aviation Engineering Consultant, McLarens Aviation
- Diversity & Inclusion Team: All Nippon Airways (ANA)
“The calibre of this year’s nominations shows the determination of the aviation industry to successfully address the challenges and embrace the opportunities of diversity and inclusion. And this has in no way been diminished by the COVID-19 crisis. The work done by all the nominees is an inspiration for all advocates of diversity across the industry. The prizes are being awarded to three well-deserving recipients, but the true winner is the aviation industry. It grows stronger by the changes being driven by all the great work being done by the awardees and by all who submitted a nomination,” said Karen Walker, on behalf of the judging panel.
The IATA Diversity & Inclusion Awards are sponsored by Qatar Airways. Each winner receives a prize of $25,000, payable to the winner in each of the categories or to their nominated charities.
China Eastern to host next AGM in Shanghai
IATA announced that China Eastern Airlines will host the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, on 19-21 June 2022. This will be the third time China will host the global gathering of aviation’s top leaders. The AGM was previously held in Beijing in 2012 and in Shanghai in 2002.
“China Eastern Airlines is excited to host the IATA AGM and to welcome our industry colleagues to our home city of Shanghai. In the 20 years since the AGM was last held in Shanghai, the city has completely changed. We look forward to showcasing our vibrant city and warm Chinese hospitality,” said Liu Shaoyong, chairman, China Eastern Airlines.