Monday, May 20, 2024
Sustainable solutions in the spotlight

Sustainable solutions in the spotlight

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) World Cargo Symposium in Hong Kong reflected the airfreight industry’s increased focus on accelerating towards a sustainable future.

 “On the passenger side, a lot of travellers want us to improve the industry but expect the industry to do it. If you look at the cargo industry, customers are focused on environmental issues but they want to play a role as well,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh told Air Cargo Week.

 “Consolidators, shippers, they’re all interested in it. They want to be part of the solution. There is a united goal and everyone wants to play a part in getting to net zero.” 

Step by step

Looking to move swiftly towards a greener future, the industry often focuses on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), with Walsh accepting that it is “critical because of the 2050 timeframe.” However, the IATA chief admitted that “SAF is not going to make us carbon neutral.”

 The majority of SAF predominantly relies on hydrocarbons and are in limited supply, so the main concern lies in identifying viable pathways where the feedstock is genuinely sustainable. “Is it scientifically possible? Yes. Is it environmentally sustainable? That’s the goal. Is it commercially sustainable? That’s critical going forward.

“SAF is part of the solution to getting to net zero but remember it’s net zero. We’re not talking about gross zero. We’ll still be emitting CO2, we’ll just be offsetting it. That’s what SAF is going to be critical to.

“There will be other solutions that benefit us but I think most of them will take longer than 2050 to come into effect. For example, hydrogen is absolutely critical for the future of the industry but it won’t play a significant part in the transition to net zero. That’s why the emphasis is on SAF.

“More and more of these pathways will be approved. More and more of these will be open to scrutiny and I think they will stand the scrutiny.

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Defending the industry

Although there has been progress within the industry, including a number of initiatives on display around the AsiaWorld-Expo’s hall and on stage during panel discussions, those outside of aviation have been vocal in their criticism.

 “I think it’s unfair to accuse the industry of greenwashing,” Walsh said, defending the progress made so far. “I think it’s important that we’re open to debate but some people focus on the airline industry’s transition to net zero in a way that they don’t with other industries. Some people will be critical no matter what we do.

 “Our industry gets a lot of focus because we’re hard to decarbonise. I think we’ve got to stand up to the challenge and be honest about our work. 

 “Everybody’s using offsets but people are critical of airlines using offsets. Now, I think some of that criticism is fair because of the reputation and false offsets early on but, under the current system, the offsets that we’re using are verifiable.

 “It is important to listen to what critics are saying but we are doing work, as seen by Virgin’s 100 percent SAF flight. I think we deserve credit for what’s being done.”

READ: Sustainability, digitalisation and safety in air cargo

Transparent reporting

If the industry is to fully shake off the accusations of greenwashing, Walsh is clear that accuracy is important. CO2 calculators and reporting systems have to be precise.

 In this accounting, the focus shifts towards individuals and their contribution to fuel burn, which directly correlates with aircraft weight and payloads. The heavier the payload, the more fuel is consumed, making it essential to accurately allocate fuel burn to various aircraft activities. 

 However, challenges arise regarding the distribution of fuel burn, particularly concerning how much is attributed solely to carrying the aircraft with no payload. IATA seeks to deliver precision in this area by considering factors like seat weight and cargo containers. 

 “The issue is: to what level of precision do consumers want us to provide? I think it will just get more and more precise. I think it’s become a more mature discussion and I expect it to continue to develop going forward,” Walsh explained.

 “From a cargo point of view, people want to be fairly treated in terms of what we allocate to the airfreight side of operations in terms of CO2. It’s about recognising the weight of passenger seats, cargo containers, etc.

 “Our chief economist is looking at that to ensure we’re applying procedures fairly and accurately to ensure consistent, recommended practices.”

Picture of James Graham

James Graham

James Graham is an award-winning transport media journalist with a long background in the commercial freight sector, including commercial aviation and the aviation supply chain. He was the initial Air Cargo Week journalist and retuned later for a stint as editor. He continues his association as editor of the monthly supplements. He has reported for the newspaper from global locations as well as the UK.

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