In the Skies Overhead – Global Airline Passenger Volume Set to Double Over Next Two Decades. What Could the Environmental Impact of More Air Travel Be?

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Once upon a time in the early days of jet travel, business travelers accounted for three-quarters or more of the total passenger business of the major U.S. airlines (known as “trunk” carriers back in the day).  Fares were long set by Federal regulation and family-friendly, tourista-friendly fare packages were scarce or non-existent.  Airlines relied on the “have-to-travel-for-business” crowd. At full fare (regulated until the late-1970s).

As the U.S. transport regulations were significantly relaxed (scheduled carriers through Federal “de-regulation” in 1979), the number of U.S. airlines soared from 75 or so to 400 companies…and then began to steadily shrink as carriers merged or went out of business. But passenger travel continued to grow.

Consider:  The Federal Aviation Administration reports 2.7 million passengers move across 29 million miles of controlled airspace on 44,000 flights within the U.S. each day! (See Air Traffic by the Numbers for full details): https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/by_the_numbers/media/Air_Traffic_by_the_Numbers_2019.pdf

IATA reports four billion annual passengers traveled on a global basis between 20,000 “city pairs”, doubling the global 1995 city pairs available to fliers (the airport centers) in 2017. Passenger traffic was heaviest in Asia-Pacific (more than one-third of the total); Europe and North America each had a quarter of the total number of passengers.  More information for you at: https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2018-09-06-01.aspx

In response to this steady growth in passenger demand, as set fares were de-regulated airlines and seat price points steadily fell, airlines developed a bewildering array of fare offerings (“stay overnight on Saturday” etc).  And those reduced fares helped to bring many more non-business fliers to the American skies.  

Outside of the U.S., what were once “national flag carriers” (like British Airways, Air France, KLM, Al Italia and many others owned by governments) are now private sector companies — and these long-established carriers and their newer competitors are similarly filling their planes through offer of attractive fares and generous “packages” for retail customers, and connecting business and tourism fliers with many more cities.

And so – as author Stephan Rice points out in his Forbes commentary – IATA, the industry’s International Air Transport Association — sees the global commercial airline passenger business doubling over the next 20 years. 

More flying customers means more passenger airliners will be needed (with much more fuel consumed), more airports needed to accommodate the “to and from” of air travelers (or airports will have to be expanded and upgraded) …and all this means more pollution

Passengers are now becoming more aware of the impact of air transport on the environment and demanding more sustainable practices.  And they are willing to pay for it, some surveys show.

As air travel volume builds, what can be done to reduce the impact of air travel on the global environment? 

Dr. Rice suggests airports can be re-designed to be more sustainable (he cites enhancements at SFO International and Boston Logan as U.S. examples). Indira Ghandi International in Delhi has the first Leadership LEED Gold certificate.

Airlines could use biofuels; KLM had a biofuels test flight from Amsterdam to Paris; Honeywell arranged a flight over the Atlantic using petro-based fuel and camelina (a derivative of a flowering Mediterranean plant!); Singapore is using biofuels over the Pacific.

A 2017 survey of 700+ consumers showed that passengers were willing to pay an additional fee (up to 13% more) for a flight using biofuels — “…a portion of consumers value green initiatives and appear willing to contribute financially to support it…”

The U.S. carriers’ trade organization is “Airlines for America”; it promotes the “A4A’s Climate Change Commitment” for member airlines and is part of a worldwide aviation coalition committed to a global framework on aviation and climate change with emissions target goals. (The “Aspirational goal” is 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 relative to 2005 levels.)
Information at: http://airlines.org/a4as-climate-change-commitment/

IATA – the airline industry’s global trade association – has set three targets and four pillars to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport. Information and fact sheets are available at: https://www.iata.org/policy/environment/Pages/climate-change.aspx

Author Rice describes the results of additional consumer surveys on the topic in his Forbes commentary.  He concludes:  “It is clear that the public wants sustainable aviation…and are willing to pay at least some costs for this. Some airlines and manufacturers are taking the lead, but the rest of aviation need to follow very quickly or get left behind.”  Read the details in his commentary, which is this week’s Top Story for you.

Stephen Rice is a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

Hank Boerner personal note: I spent most of the first two decades of my career in the air transport industry. I was the first “corporate citizenship” manager of American Airlines and later, senior advisor to Royal Jordanian Airlines, then the fastest-growing airline in the world (for two years). In the 1970s, I served as organizer and executive director of the two “MECACON” conferences (Middle East Civil Aviation). On September 11, 2001 I was on duty again, with our team, serving my client, American Airlines in the New York City region in crisis management. It’s a great industry creating opportunities for so many individuals and nations!

This Week’s Top Stories

The Public Supports Sustainable Aviation and They’re Willing Pay for It
(Friday – June 07, 2019) Source: Forbes – The International Air Transport Association has predicted that the number of commercial airline travelers will double in the next 20 years. This means that there will be more airplanes, more airports, and more pollution. The…

And – adding to the discussion – the Simple Flying web platform has an interesting story by Joanna Bailey on “sustainable jet fuel” – can it save the planet?  This is an ideal companion piece to the Top Story this week: 

What On Earth Is Sustainable Jet Fuel? Can It Save Our Planet?
(Friday – June 18, 2019) Source: Simple Flying – The use of sustainable aviation fuel is on the increase around the world. But what is this newfangled propulsion juice exactly, and is it the magic bullet to make aviation kinder to the environment?

Dispatch From London and The Economist Sustainability Summit 2018

Guest Post By Juliet Russell – Sustainability Reporting Analyst, G&A Institute

The Economist’s third annual Sustainability Summit was convened in London on March 22nd, 2018. I attended as a representative of G&A Institute.

The discussions focused on how to shift from “responsibility to leadership”: how to lead and encourage co-operation on the path to progress.

I was impressed that significant players from a diverse range of sectors attended the conference, including representatives of Government, NGOs, Business and Academia. Panelists ranged from the CEO of Sainsbury’s, to Google’s Lead for Sustainability, to the Chair of the Board of Directors for Greenpeace and to a Deputy Mayor of London.

Each provided their own views and experiences of sustainability leadership and how to really see actions, instead of ‘just talk and promises’.

The key themes from the day centered around the need for collaboration, communication, shared responsibility, disruptive innovation, combatting short-termism and internalizing sustainability into core strategy and business models.

 

One of the most poignant messages for me was the need for understanding the urgency of the issues we are facing today, particularly in relation to climate change – “we are behaving as though the delta is zero and the delta is clearly not zero” (Jay Koh, The Lightsmith Group).

An attendee told a story of new LEED Platinum Certified buildings in Seattle that everyone is of course proud of — but in 30 years these super energy-efficient buildings will be underwater because we’re too busy focusing on small wins and continual growth, failing to act fast enough or understand the urgency when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise.

As quoted from Baroness Bryony Worthington of the Environmental Defense Fund – “…winning slowly with climate change is the same as losing!”

The conference was incredibly insightful, with such a breadth of timely and interesting topics, which highlighted different areas of debate and offered up potential solutions. Four of the panel discussions I feel are particularly worth highlighting:

1)    ‘A TALE OF THREE CITIES’
Discussion led by Mark Watts, Director of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
and featuring three city government representatives: Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London (Environment and Energy); Solly Tshepiso, Mayor of Tshwane, South Africa; and,  Karsten Biering Nielsen, Deputy Director of Technical and Environmental Administration for the City of Copenhagen.

The lack of adequate and strategic government action is failing so far in preventing climate change and also in reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

Mayor Solly discussed as example how slow progress on Paris Agreement targets were partly due to the lack of communication from top Government-level down to the city-level in South Africa. City-to-city communication and partnerships were touted as solutions to these kind of problems, as well as being vital in reaching the SDGs.

The C40 Cities Group facilitates this kind of partnership and network through the sharing of best-practice and successful innovation among their 92 affiliated cities around the world.

2)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns from The Body Shop International.

This panel discussion focused around how to “do good and do well,”; Chris suggested that we need to be gearing business to be truly sustainable based on what the planet needs – not the economy or the shareholders – and creating benchmarks against planetary and societal needs.

Essential consideration for creating a sustainable business:  when sustainability is not an add-on function but embedded in the strategy and business model and thus integral to all activities. The Body Shop International management will know that they have been successful in their sustainability mission when sustainability is ingrained in everything the company is doing and they no longer have a need for a separate sustainability team.

3)    ‘CHANGING MINDS’
Discussion led Dr. Simone Schnall from the University of Cambridge and Prerana Issar from the UN World Food Programme.

This discussion revolved around the relevance of ‘nudging’ in changing behaviour (a behavioral economics approach) to push progress in sustainability. Dr. Simone discussed the concept of ‘nudging’ – creating a choice architecture, which is set up so that people are more inclined to go for the ‘beneficial’ option, gently pushing people to do the right thing.

An example of this might be in putting the recycled paper products at eye-level, with the products made from less sustainable materials at a more awkward height to see and reach.

Essentially, using nudging, we bypass the attempt at changing minds but still change the behaviour.

This can help to reduce problems such as ‘moral licensing’, where people feel licensed to do something ‘bad’ if they have just done something morally good (and vice versa). For example, when using energy efficient products, some people then feel they are able to use them more often because they are doing a ‘good’, which actually negates the positive efficiency benefit.

Nudging may be more and more necessary as actions towards sustainability become more urgent, as we can’t generally rely on society to make the best and informed decisions all the time. Though as nudging still relies on choice, is this enough to make us change? In reality, society may need more guidance and regulation and here, there’s a role for stricter governance and policy.

4)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer for Kering.

Touching on the themes of innovation, partnerships and collaboration, Marie-Claire discussed a tool that Kering developed and are using: their Environmental Profit and Loss (“E P&L”).

Many people around the world and across sectors acknowledge that over-exploitation and degradation of the environment and our resources are partially due to the fact that these resources, our ‘natural capital’, have not been accounted for in economic decision-making and cost-benefit analyses.

Because of this, we are failing to internalize the negative externalities, which is crucial if we are to properly be accountable and responsible for our actions in society today, thus failing to understand the true environmental consequences of our actions.

Many businesses would fail to acknowledge the environment as a stakeholder unless it explicitly showed up on their profit and loss accounting.

Kering, a first-mover in their field, created and proposed an E P&L accounting tool as a way to do this and it can be applied throughout the entire value chain. This tool allows identification of impact areas and thus increases ability to reduce it.

Kering also provide their E P&L methodology open-source, to encourage other companies to follow and increase their accountability. This hones in on the knowledge-sharing and sharing of best-practice theme.

During the final session of the day, editors from The Economist newspaper came up with their main takeaways, the “four Ps”:

  • Pragmatic – that is, moving from debating who is responsible and asking, ‘is it really happening?’ to understanding that the situation “is what it is” — and we need to just get on with it. For this, collaborations at all levels will be key.
  • Persistent – sustainability needs to be talked about and implemented persistently, in order to become deeply embedded – not something that has the ‘fickleness of fashion’ – being ‘in’ the one day and passé the next. Persistence can help to bring a necessary sense of depth to the issues and challenges we are facing, in order to trigger action.
  • Problem – understanding reality and assessing our achievements: if we add up all of our efforts today, is it anywhere near enough? I’m sure you’ll all agree that the answer is most definitely not. How do we scale up these efforts effectively? We need to be mindful of the scale of the threats the planet and society face – increasing measurement and transparency can help to uncover this.
  • Prioritization – at present, we can’t robustly value different externalities, which is necessary for internalizing them and dealing in the most efficient and effective way. We must remember to be aware that each trade-off has consequences and consider alternative actions.

Coming away from this wonderful conference, it was clear to me that the main takeaway was of the potential of collaboration – within companies, within industries, between industries, and across sectors. This was picked up on in nearly every talk.

We need a whole ‘ecosystem’ featuring collaboration (involving business, NGOs, government, academia and citizens) in order to win with the current challenges we’re facing; to really progress in sustainability and work towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The conference was undoubtedly a timely and powerful call for action.