ICAO’s 41st Assembly, which opens today in Montreal and runs through October 7, will be considered a failure if the member states of the UN body fail to agree to its promised Long Term Aspirational Goal to achieve net zero carbon aviation by 2050, according to IATA director general Willie Walsh. At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Walsh told reporters that governments must match the clear commitment made by airlines at IATA’s annual general meeting held in Doha last June.
“The industry fully aligned with the science and we’re looking to ICAO to get global governments and regulators equally aligned around the goal of 2050; anything less would be viewed as a failure,” Walsh said. “It’s not going to stop us on our road to 2050, but [getting agreement] would send a very important signal to governments to get the right policy framework in place.”
One immediate demand IATA has of governments is to intervene to stimulate and support increased production and availability of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which the industry group sees as a vital first step to net zero. “We’re buying every drop we can get our hands on but what needs to happen now is to incentivize more production,” Walsh declared.
Walsh said that the air transport industry will not be diverted from its 2050 net zero goal by apparent political obstacles such as China’s insistence on a 2060 timeline, and the anticipated rowing back of environmental policies by new governments in the UK and Italy. “We don’t have a level playing field today but I don’t believe [these factors] will distort [the net zero objective]. We need not only financial sustainability but environmental sustainability,” Walsh insisted. “The same politicians who sometimes criticize the industry but do nothing themselves to solve issues like the structural inefficiencies in air traffic control that in last week’s French [controllers] strike meant that airlines had to fly much further and burn more fuel. It’s disgraceful and cannot be tolerated.”
On September 26, EasyJet published a new net zero strategy that will see it abandon carbon offsetting in order to make larger investments in actions such as increased SAF usage, replacing old aircraft, and working with partners Airbus and Rolls-Royce to bring hydrogen-powered jets into service. Walsh praised the UK-based low-cost carrier for its initiative while adding that ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) program with its strict requirements is still a credible approach and a significant “first step” for the industry.
In the wake of what Walsh described as “economic headwinds” IATA’s forecast for the air transport industry’s post-Covid recovery has become somewhat “less optimistic.” The group now expects the global industry to take until 2024 to achieve a full recovery, with North America ahead of the curve with a 2023 recovery, while Asia, with some travel restrictions still in place, lagging to 2025.
IATA expects its member carriers to record a combined loss this year of $9.7 billion. Walsh pointed to elevated operating costs caused by higher prices for jet-A fuel that is showing a bigger-than-anticipated discrepancy with the base cost of crude oil as the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues.