ANALYSIS: Industry on course to achieve green goals

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IATA is confident that the aviation industry remains on track to meet the ambitious emissions reduction targets set out by the organisation in 2009.

The association is also optimistic that ICAO's meeting this autumn will result in a first step on the road to developing a global market-based measure to address air transport emissions.

However, more work is needed from governments to ensure that the infrastructure side of the equation plays its part in achieving these goals.

Four years have passed since IATA put its environmental objectives on the table. These included a 1.5% annual improvement in fuel efficiency between 2009 and 2020, carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and a 50% reduction in aviation emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.

"From an industry perspective we believe we're on track, but we still need more support from governments," says IATA director of aviation environment Paul Steele. He points out that "the whole industry is working together to make sure we achieve these goals", and the 1.5% annual efficiency target is being aided by high oil prices.

"Despite the economic climate, fleet replacement is continuing to be driven by the cost of fuel," says Steele. "There is every incentive to become fuel-efficient, and this is really helping."

Operational improvements are also continuing and IATA is working with airports and air navigation service providers to ensure that this side of the industry plays ball. But the story is quite different on the infrastructure front, says Steele: "On infrastructure, quite frankly, the efforts of governments on projects like NextGen and the Single European Sky are lagging way behind what is necessary. We're working closely with ICAO to try and accelerate this, but it needs political will and push to make it happen. We believe governments should be doing a lot more."

Steele points to the Seamless Asian Sky air traffic management project and says he hopes it will not "fall into the same trap" as the USA's NextGen programme and the Single European Sky initiative.

When it comes to meeting the longer-term targets, biofuels and new technology will have a major part to play. "By 2050 biofuels will play a significant role, there's no doubt," says Steele. "We're seeing more and more projects and innovative ways to produce low-carbon fuels and this keeps me extremely optimistic and excited."

He adds that "more revolutionary technology will happen on the long-haul fleets in the 2030-2040 timeframe". Steele believes that over the next 20-30 years, significant results will be seen on the technology front because "people are pushing the envelope in almost every area".

Market-based measures such as emissions trading will also have a part to play and the pressure is on for ICAO to move towards a global scheme at its general assembly later this year. The EU announced in November that it was "stopping the clock" on its controversial plan to include airlines in its Emissions Trading System to enable ICAO to make progress on a global approach.

"We have to acknowledge the EU for pushing forward and raising the issue up the political agenda - there's a spotlight on this now ahead of the ICAO assembly," says Steele. "We welcome 'stopping the clock'. It's given breathing space for the extremely difficult political negotiations in ICAO to move forward."

While the level of progress made at the ICAO assembly "remains to be seen", Steele says he is "optimistic there will be at least a first step in the right direction". Failure to come up with a global approach could mean that each country sets up its own market-based measure, and "the complexities of complying would be unthinkable".

Steele describes aviation as "the glue that sticks the global economy together" and says this should be remembered when discussing market-based measures.

The environment will be "a key piece" at this year's IATA annual general meeting, which will include discussions about what might happen at ICAO later this year.

In addition to an environmental panel discussion, moderated by Steele, IATA will provide an update on its environmental assessment programme during the AGM. The voluntary programme is similar to IATA's safety and ground operation audits. "We're looking forward to acknowledging the success of airlines that have gone through it," says Steele.