In a blog post before the end of 2022, IATA’s (International Air Transport Association) Director General Willie Walsh criticised European lawmakers for not making decisions that have an actual visible effect on the aviation industry’s carbon emissions.
“Given the billions of dollars being spent by the airline industry on Sustainable Aviation Fuels, offsetting, and other decarbonization initiatives, we have no reason to hesitate in calling out governments when they fail to take action to significantly reduce aviation emissions”, Walsh condemned the governments’ course of action regarding aviation’s decarbonisation.
It is scandalous that European politicians lecture airlines and consumers on the need to reduce emissions, while failing to act themselves.Willie Walsh, IATA Director General
Walsh pointed to the yet unadopted Single European Sky (SES) initiative, a ready-made solution that can cut out structural inefficiencies in air traffic management (ATM), thus reducing aviation’s emissions in Europe by 10%. “SES is a ready-made solution and politicians must be held accountable for not taking responsibility and delivering in an area in which they are fully empowered”, the he wrote.
Lawmakers chose smaller inefficient measures instead of taking significant action. Commenting on France’s recent ban on short haul flights, where a suitable rail connection is available, Walsh called it “complete and utter nonsense”, considering a 2021 Eurocontrol study showed that while flights that are less than 500 kilometres long represent 24.1% of the total in Europe, they only account for 3.8% of aviation’s gross CO2 emissions. “The gains are small for the cost paid”, the director noted.
He also heavily criticised the advice for people to fly less, pointing out that a few people choosing to not fly will only mean a plane is not fully booked, but the flight will still have the same carbon footprint, regardless of how many passengers are onboard. “This simple example illustrates the need to do things that have a real and measurable impact on environmental performance. And a lot of what we see being proposed does not”, Walsh wrote.
On the other hand, Walsh commended governments for agreeing to the Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) at the 41st Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as well as the implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the only global market-based measure applying to CO2 emissions from international flights, thus ensuring that international aviation emissions should be accounted for only once.
To really reduce the impact aviation has on the environment, which is likely to increase proportionally compared to other industries where decarbonisation tools are more readily available, deeper systematic measures are needed. “With governments now joining industry in a commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, they now need to take responsibility and contribute meaningfully”, Walsh said, pointing to SES and Sustainable Aviation Fuel as the most important factors to focus on in 2023.