Aviation still targeting greener future as travel numbers take flight

The global aviation industry’s journey to net zero is gathering pace with senior figures welcoming recent moves to drive down emission levels.

The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) director general Willie Walsh said he welcomed progress by states towards a long-term aspirational goal (LTAG) of net-zero aviation carbon emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement’s temperature objectives.

His organisation has been in discussion with a number of organisations in preparation for the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 41st Assembly later this year.

“The ICAO High Level Meeting’s support of a long term goal for states that is in line with the aviation sector’s net-zero by 2050 commitment is a step in the right direction,” he explained. “A formal agreement at the 41st ICAO Assembly would underpin a common approach by states to decarbonise aviation. That’s critical for the aviation industry. Knowing that government policies will support the same goal and timeline globally will enable the sector, especially its suppliers, to make the needed investments to decarbonise.”

In October last, IATA member airlines committed to net zero emissions by 2050. The path to achieve this will involve a combination of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), new propulsion technology, infrastructure and operational efficiencies, and carbon offsets/carbon capture to fill any gaps.

“Net zero by 2050 will require a global transition for aviation to new fuels, technologies and operations. The significant investments to get there will need a solid policy foundation aligned with a global way forward. That is why it is so important for states to carry the momentum of the High Level Meeting through to a formal agreement at the 41st ICAO Assembly in a few weeks,” added Walsh.

As the UK braced itself for the busiest travel weekend of the year, the CEO of its biggest airport revealed it’s scheme to utilise sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been oversubscribed.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to a 10% SAF mandate by 2030 – sustainable aviation fuel is the only pathway to decarbonise long haul aviation, but it needs a massive increase in production,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye. “The new mandate will give investors the demand signal to scale up production and should lead to a significant UK based SAF industry.

“At Heathrow, we have already put in place a SAF incentive for 2022, which has been oversubscribed, and will see more SAF uploaded at Heathrow this year than any other airport in the world.  Our aim is to use the incentive to progressively increase the use of SAF at Heathrow.”

Turning to the travel chaos which had impacted the airport since restrictions were lifted Holland-Kaye said: “We started planning 9 months ago for the summer peak, and our own resources are on track – We started ramping up our own operations in November 2021 and encouraged airlines and their ground handlers to do the same. Planning has been based on summer peak demand exceeding 85% of 2019, broadly in line with actuals. All parts of the airport are now fully operational. We have hired 1,300 people in the last 6 months and will have a similar level of security resource by the end of July as pre-pandemic. We have additional service colleagues and our entire management team is deployed on “Here to Help” shifts to support passengers in the terminals this summer.

“Airline ground handling shortage is now the constraint on Heathrow’s capacity – The number of people employed in ground handling fell sharply over the last two years, as airlines cut costs during the pandemic. We have been raising our concerns over lack of handler resource for 9 months.

“We estimate that airline ground handlers have no more than 70% of pre-pandemic resource, and there has been no increase in numbers since January. In the second half of June, as departing passenger numbers regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we started to see a worrying increase in unacceptable service levels for some passengers; an increase in delays to get planes on to stand, bags not travelling with passengers or being delivered very late to the baggage hall, low departure punctuality and some flights being cancelled after passengers had boarded.

“This showed us that demand had started to exceed the capacity of airline ground handlers and we took swift action to protect consumers by applying a cap on departing passenger numbers, better aligned with their resources. Airline ground handler performance has been much more stable since the cap came into effect, and we have seen a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage performance. Heathrow’s cap is 50% higher than Schiphol, which shows how much better the airport and airlines have planned at Heathrow than our competitors. The cap will remain in place until airlines increase their ground handler resource.”

He concluded: “We can’t ignore that COVID has left the aviation sector deeply scarred, and the next few years will need investment to rebuild capacity, with a focus on safety, consumer service, resilience and efficiency. Airlines need to recruit and train more ground handlers; airports need catch up on underinvestment during the COVID years – at Heathrow, that means replacing the T2 baggage system and new security lanes. Recent months have shown that passengers value easy, quick and reliable journeys, not penny pinching, and the CAA should be encouraging the investment that will deliver for consumers.”

“The ICAO High Level Meeting’s support of a long term goal for states that is in line with the aviation sector’s net-zero by 2050 commitment is a step in the right direction.”

Willie Walsh, IATA