IATA director general Willie Walsh believes pressure to suppress air travel growth as a way of countering aviation’s climate change impact is only a debate in Europe and that it is “arrogant” to expect emerging countries to be deprived of the economic benefits of air connectivity the continent has enjoyed.

It comes amid several moves, of which Dutch plans to cut capacity at Amsterdam Schiphol airport is among the most high-profile, aimed at curbing air travel growth on environmental grounds.

Willie Walsh 10

Source: BillyPix

Walsh: “Outside of Europe, I don’t hear any dicussion of suppressing growth

Walsh rejected suggestions that the industry may have to stop growth in order to address its climate change impact.

“Typically this debate about whether growth should be suppressed is a European debate, and its solely a European debate, and its solely in certain parts of Europe. You don’t have this discussion in other parts of the world,” he said during a press conference at the IATA AGM in Dubai on 3 June.

By contrast Walsh says the attitude outside of Europe, especially in populations where take-up of air connectivity remains relatively limited, is far more appreciative of the economic value of air connectivity.

“Outside of Europe, I don’t hear any discussion of suppressing growth, in fact quite the opposite,” he says. ”When I travel around the world and meet airline CEOs, talk to regulators, talk to politicians, outside of Europe they have a huge appreciation for the value new connectivity will bring to their economies.

”I think when we discuss this from a European context I think we are quite arrogant to believe the rest of the world should follow what Europe is doing, because the rest of the world has not had the benefit the Europeans have had. The rest of the world wants to.

”Aviation will unlock huge economic value in countries like India,” he adds. ”Africa today is only 2% of commercial aviation and it should be much higher. Think of the economic contribution, what it would mean for people, the ability to travel, the ability to connect, for business to reach new opportunities.”

Outgoing chair of the IATA board of governors, Rwandair chief executive Yvonne Makolo, concurs, particularly given the low penetration of air travel within Africa.

“It really doesn’t make sense. In the context of Africa, we are talking about 54 African countries, how do we connect them if we don’t leverage air connectivity? We have limited roads, non-existent rail, so air connectivity is the only way. The focus should be on decarbonisation, but not on slowing growth.”

Emirates Airline president Tim Clark, whose airline is hosting the AGM this year, adds: ”The trick of the business is to reduce the carbon footprint of what is going on. There are so many initiatives, the difficultly is implementing some of those roadmaps. But the industry is single-mindedly focused in decarbonising what we are at a pace that is manageable and we are absolutely fixated on getting the job done.

”But to reduce growth and to prevent so many people from having the benefits – Africa, South America, the developing world… who have yet to reach those kind of levels of connectivity that the developed world have enjoyed for so long. It’s not time to do that. We just have to be smart about what we do.”