Ex-BA boss drop green aviation policies if costs outweigh benefits

Green aviation policies should be abandoned if the costs outweigh the benefits, the head of the world’s most influential airlines body has said.

Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) and a former British Airways boss, said achieving net zero by 2050 was “existential, not optional”.

However, he also suggested governments should have the courage to stop green policies and change tack if they were not producing the intended results.

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The comments came as part of Walsh’s keynote speech at Iata’s annual general meeting in Dubai on Monday, in which the body revealed that the global aviation sector would achieve a net profit of more than $30bn (£24bn) this year, up by $3bn on last year’s figure.

Part of Walsh’s speech focused on current approaches to decarbonise the aviation sector and tackle the climate crisis, in which he hit out against green levies on the sector.

He said more taxes were not the solution to achieving net zero and that the current “parade of fragmented green tax proposals” were prohibiting people from flying sustainably and grounding all but the rich.

Walsh put forward eight approaches that he argued would improve the world’s progress towards greener aviation, which included a call for provisions to be put in place that would allow certain green policies to be reviewed and scrapped if they did not work.

“Measures must have provisions for review and abandonment if they are not producing the intended results,” he said. “Some good ideas will certainly translate into good policies. And many may not.

“When a policy has clearly failed – especially when costs outweigh benefits – regulators must have the courage to stop, and change tack fast.”

Walsh said the global industry needed global solutions and Iata would be pushing for globally recognised and accepted rules to reduce carbon emissions, while also calling for measures be put in place to direct more fossil fuel investment into sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

A number of countries are bringing in SAF mandates, which put requirements on providers to use a certain percentage of the fuel in their aircraft.

SAFs can be sourced from food-waste oil and fats, green and municipal waste and non-food crops, and it is claimed they could cut emissions by 80% compared with traditional fuels. However, critics say hopes for the technology are overblown, with a report by the Institute for Policy Studies thinktank arguing efforts to bring SAFs up to scale are too far off track to avert the climate crisis.

The UK is poised to pass its own SAF mandate in January next year, which will put in place laws that require 2% of all jet fuel used by airlines to come from sustainable and low-carbon sources by the end of 2025, and 10% by 2030. SAF now equates to just more than 0.5% of the globe’s fuel needs.

Walsh said these mandates faced a number of problems, with governments sometimes mandating airlines to buy SAF in quantities that did not exist. He said this often resulted in producers being hit with fines and passing them on to airlines.

“We witnessed this in France where fuel suppliers are happy to accept penalties for their failure to supply the SAF mandate. They simply exercise their monopoly power and pass those costs on [to] airlines. This must be stopped,” he said.

Iata revealed that airlines would probably reach profits of $30.5bn in 2024, up from the $27.4bn that are estimated for 2023. This was also up on the $25.7bn forecast for 2024 in December this year.

It also forecast record revenues of $1tn for the sector but this would be partly offset by record expenses of $946bn.

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