Soaring to success

Soaring to success

Tony Tyler notes that scheduled commercial aviation began with a single passenger on a 23-minute journey across Tampa Bay, Florida, in the United States on January 1, 1914. “Since then, aviation has changed the world immeasurably …” But has it been for the greater good? FOCUS investigates.

Tyler, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), says that airlines will have connected around 3,3 billion people and more than 50 million tonnes of cargo, over 50 000 routes, by the end of this year … “In a team effort of committed partners, aviation literally moves the global economy,” he points out. “And by working together, with a global mindset, there is enormous potential to be achieved.”

Tyler’s comments were made in his State of the Industry address to the 70th IATA Annual General Meeting, and World Air Transport Summit, in Doha, Qatar – correlating with what he said in his speech at the seventh Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) Environmental Summit in Geneva, Switzerland …

“Throughout the first 100 years of commercial passenger flight, aviation has demonstrated a proud history of teamwork and delivered innovation that has changed our world dramatically,” he emphasises.

The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) – a not-for-profit independent coalition of organisations representing all segments of the world’s air transport industry – demonstrates just how radically this sector has altered everyday life with its report: Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders, released at the Summit. In this account, ATAG looks at the economic and social benefits of the commercial aviation industry and examines the sector’s environmental progress.

Michael Gill, ATAG’s executive director, explains: “This year marks the 100th anniversary of regular scheduled airline operations. In the last century, we have served over 65 billion passengers and opened up new forms of family connections, friendships and businesses.” He adds that the benefits that rapid, safe and good-value air travel brings to the wider economy and society are often overlooked. “Our report puts that in context.”

Of the more than 58 million jobs that the air transport industry currently supports, 8,7 million are within the sector itself; at airlines, airports, in air traffic management organisations and at the makers of aircrafts and engines.

Suppliers to those core aviation companies support nearly 10 million further positions in sectors such as food supply for catering, fuel, components for aircrafts and financing. The report states that the salaries of both these direct and indirect jobs generate an estimated 4,6 million jobs in the wider economy.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of air transport, however, is the tourism industry – with 52 percent of international tourists travelling by air … That amounts to more than 35 million tourism jobs depending on aviation.

“It is clear that aviation is a vital component of modern life,” says Gill. “Aside from the employment supported by the sector, aviation helps generate 3,4 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). We transport cargo worth US$ 6,4 trillion (R68 trillion) – over a third of the value of world trade. But perhaps the most important benefits of air transport are those that happen outside the industry, in the businesses and communities that rely on the services we provide.”

The report’s authors say that, based on current rates of aviation growth, 20 years from now the industry is set to support 103 million jobs and US$ 5,8 trillion (R61,6 trillion) in GDP.

“Air transport is growing rapidly, particularly in the Asia-Pacific area, Latin America and the Middle East as these economies expand and emerging middle classes are able to take advantage of the benefits of air travel. However, at a global level, the analysis tells us that even a one percent lower aviation growth rate could reduce the 2032 job count by 12,4 million jobs,” Gill points out.

“It is vital that governments around the world look to travel and tourism as a way of boosting their tertiary economies and developing what can be a very sustainable industry. However, they must make sure that growth in aviation – like all sectors – is done with environmental consideration from the earliest planning stages …”

Gill explains that the aviation industry’s players aren’t standing by idly: “At this very Summit, in 2008, the aviation sector joined forces to outline a plan for dealing with CO2 emissions from air transport.”

This was taken a step further by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – the United Nations’ agency responsible for aviation – in October 2013. “The result of last year’s ICAO Assembly was the first significant step along the road to meeting our ambitious targets,” Gill adds.

Here governments agreed to develop a global market-based measure (policy instruments that use markets, price and other economic variables, like taxes and incentives, to reduce negative environmental externalities) for aviation emissions from 2020, to be decided at the next ICAO assembly in 2016.

Airlines, however, aren’t lying in wait for 2016 … they’ve been looking at possible solutions for quite some time now. IATA reports that, between 2008 and 2011, at least ten airlines and several aircraft manufacturers performed flight tests with various blends containing up to 50 percent biojet fuel, which delivered some promising results …

These tests demonstrated that the alternative fuel is technically sound, that no modifications had to be made to an aircraft for it to run on the “substitute juice” and that biojet fuel could be blended with conventional fuel. In some cases, the engines powered by the biojet mix even showed an improvement in fuel efficiency.

IATA indicates that since the certification of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acid fuels, in 2011, 19 airlines have performed over 1 500 commercial passenger flights with blends of up to 50 percent biojet fuel – going “half and half” with anything from used cooking oil to jatropha, camelina and algae.

It would seem that players within the aviation industry are really taking their environmental responsibility to heart, and setting up the sector to foster greater financial and social well-being well into the future …

The IATA’s director general points out: “Sustainability will be a critical key to unlocking our future and the benefits that aviation will deliver to the world. As an industry, we are 100 years old, but I am absolutely convinced that this industry is only just getting started. The best is yet to come.”

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