Blue sky thinking: airlines must get external help to tackle sustainability

Governments and big business are finally taking climate change seriously, and are dedicating ever - increasing amounts of time and resources to environmentally-conscious projects. However, there are several sectors where significant environmentalism hasn’t taken off yet, perhaps one of the biggest being aviation.

Airlines need to create meaningful, and sustainable, partnerships with innovative companies in order to tackle environmental sustainability in the aviation sector.

Without change, airlines risk alienating not just environmentally-conscious passengers, but normal travellers, who would prefer their actions made a lesser impact on the environment wherever possible.

By forging meaningful partnerships that address root causes, airlines will give themselves the opportunity to become environmental leaders within their industry. Reducing plastic usage and adopting environmentally friendly materials is not enough to tackle environmental sustainability issues and more must be done.

Travellers are concerned about the environment

Travellers are increasingly likely to be influenced by how environmentally friendly a product or service is. GlobalData’s Q1 2021 Consumer Survey has shown that 76% of global respondents are at least ‘sometimes’ influenced by how ethical, environmentally friendly or socially responsible a company is.

To combat the rise of the ‘flight shaming’ movement, airlines must take all possible actions to ensure passengers do not choose alternative transportation methods, especially on short-haul routes.

With electric rail travel becoming more popular – with extensive networks across Europe and Asia – airlines risk passengers jumping to more environmentally friendly options. If progress to make the airline industry greener is slow, then the impacts could be wide-reaching.

It is very clear that no one understands the whole picture of how noise is measured – we need to demystify that


Carbon offsetting schemes are not enough

Many airlines have launched carbon offsetting schemes, reduced plastic usage and worked to become more environmentally friendly, but these small wins are not enough to tackle the broader problem – fuel.

Investment in sustainable aviation fuel and alternatively powered aircraft are the next steps to be taken. However, airlines lack the knowledge and skills to do this on their own, and meaningful partnerships will be key to making these concepts a reality.

Partnerships are key

To acquire the knowledge and skills to tackle the bigger issues, some airlines have sought to acquire a stake in a company already working in sustainability, or form strategic partnerships with them.

Budget carrier easyJet partnered with Wright Electric in 2017 to develop an electric aircraft capable of flying short distance flights. With the airline’s investment, the project has been accelerated and may become a reality before 2030.

In the same way that Delta Air Lines acquired an oil refinery in 2012 to gain security over its fuel supply, airlines should seek to do the same with biofuel companies. IAG recently committed to 10% sustainable aviation fuel usage by 2030. With the scale of an airline group such as IAG, the investment in a dedicated facility would be wise.

It would give the group security over supply and may allow them to exceed their commitment. Investments like this could be the way forward. This would create a win-win situation for any airline looking to address travellers’ concerns about air travel sustainability and future-proof their operations.

The pandemic has allowed airlines and industry stakeholders to take a step back and focus on initiatives to accelerate the progress currently being made to make aviation greener.

With travellers more likely to switch to alternative, greener transport options on short-haul routes, airlines must seek collaborative partnerships to make further progress in this space and protect their future.