As the airline industry gears itself up to decarbonize in order to meet climate change targets, there are some questions as to how it will get there and ultimately, who will pick up the tab for operational changes that need to be made—it is likely that some of this cost will be picked up by travelers in the form of much more expensive airfares.
One key ingredient to reducing the industry’s carbon emissions is to change how a plane runs, notably by using sustainable aviation fuel. Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told a Bloomberg conference panel this week that it wasn’t yet clear who would pay the cost of developing this fuel.
Walsh told the audience that sustainable aviation fuel could help with up to a 65% reduction. However, Walsh envisages that the cost “will have to be borne by consumers, there’s just no way around it.”
The industry rapidly needs to decarbonize to meet the current targets of keeping the global temperature rise under control. The World Travel & Tourism Council reports that the travel industry generates between 8% to 11% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—much of which comes from transport and a lot of that, from aviation. The airline industry itself is under intense pressure to meet an immense target of net zero emissions by 2050.
There are several other ways that the airline industry can reduce emissions—reduction in the number of flights and better route organization are two. In addition, the speed of an aircraft can radically reduce emissions and pilots across lots of airlines are being asked to slow down to save money (which also helps meet targets).
The International Council on Clean Transportation predicts that it might cost as much as $1 trillion for decarbonizing the industry and that ticket prices will have to rise as much as 22% by 2050 to foot the bill.
Rachael Everard, sustainability chief at Rolls-Royce Holdings that makes jet engines said that whilst hydrogen fuels are commonly seen as the best option, there aren’t currently enough available and that a unified plan of attack including government and everyone concerned with the energy infrastructure would need to align.
It’s just one of the current pressures facing the airline industry, where the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Last summer, travelers around the world bore witness to delays, cancellations and strikes, caused by the pandemic and it looks like this summer is lining up to be just as difficult.
There’s a lack of pilots and air traffic controllers, airline prices are booming due to a huge pent-up demand and there are new border controls being put in place across Europe and the U.K., including new entry fees to visit and biometric data.
Of course, travelers can drive the speed at which airlines turn to more sustainable options and guides such as Condé Nast traveler’s A to Z on How To Travel Sustainably provide a good start on how to navigate the challenges facing travelers who are looking to make more sustainable choices, including the use of carbon offsetting.