ATAG Summit: Michael Gill Speech

Social development Economic Environmental Aviation CORSIA

Flying in formation

Speech by Michael Gill Executive Director, Air Transport Action Group

3 October 2017, Geneva


This is Roger.

He’s a Canada Goose.

There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about him. He’s just like all the other geese.

But there is something amazing about what he and his friends are going to start doing in the next few weeks.

When geese migrate south for the winter, they travel phenomenal distances – sometimes over a thousand kilometres a day in 16-hour stretches.

Their method for flying that far provides a well-known metaphor for teamwork… flying in formation.

You see - the uplift created by the first bird is transferred to those behind it allowing them to fly using less energy. As the bird at the front gets tired, they are replaced by one from the back. And by working together these geese are able to gain an amazing 70% greater range.

This formation flight is a method borrowed by military pilots, by cyclists, trucking firms are testing the technique to improve the efficiency of autonomous vehicles and it’s even being studied to help possibly reduce commercial aviation fuel burn.

I understand that Roger and his flock do something else to make sure the migration goes smoothly – they all honk encouragement to the first goose to keep spirits up.

By flying together, we can fly further.

We have adopted that idea as the title of a new publication we are delighted to be launching here today.

Flying in Formation is a guide for industry partners around the world to help understand the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs - in an aviation context. We hope it will also provide some ideas for how you can all build the SDGs into your own corporate strategies.

We all know that we live in a rapidly changing world. And our industry is at the forefront of change.

  • By 2050, nearly ten billion people are expected to live on this planet.
  • Over half the world’s population is now living in cities – and by 2050 that will rise to two-thirds of the population in urban co-habitation.
  • A new generation of employees and customers are expecting different things from the corporations with which they interact – these millennials and indeed the next generation are looking to corporate leadership on sustainability.
  • Automation – of jobs and of technologies, including in our own industry – is going to create upheaval in the way we work and, indeed, if all of us will need to work. It will likely generate a completely different conversation about how society is organised and how it functions.
  • At the same time, there are still too many people that are living lives without access to basic services and necessities, let alone access to those aspects of our modern lives which we all take for granted – including travel.
  • And with a growing world population, our impact on natural resources is only going to grow – as is the impact that environmental pressures will have on human beings.

The Sustainable Development Goals are designed to set the development agenda until 2030, ensuring that governments, civil society and businesses are all working in the same direction on some of these key issues.

Flying in formation, if you like.

So, the SDGs allow development frameworks to be set for government action, but why are they important for business? There are a few reasons:

  • It makes good business sense. There is a clear correlation between a company’s sustainability track record and its financial performance. Businesses thrive in societies with healthy, prosperous and stable populations, clear rules of engagement and open borders.
  • Governments will increasingly make legislation and regulation that follow the themes of the SDGs and in areas that they have not previously had to consider. This will particularly be the case in emerging and developing economies.
  • And the SDGs provide a very convenient template for a business to look at its own sustainability agenda – now, companies may not need to initiate actions for all 17 SDGs when shaping their strategy, but they should at least consider a number of them.

As a global business sector, we too have to look at the role we play.

There are already actions being undertaken across all 17 SDGs by partners in the industry and we believe that we have a major global influence in seven of them and at least some influence in a further eight.

Throughout the next couple of days at the Summit, we shall be working our way across the SDGs as a means of setting the stage for our discussions.

But this morning, I would like to take a few minutes to look at a few of the SDGs in detail.

The first is SDG 5: gender equality.

You have in front of you right now the very embodiment of the aviation industry. White, middle class and… male. It’s no great secret that aviation industry conferences are made up of many people who look like me.

Statistics in Europe suggest that just over 40% of the employees in our industry are women (which is actually much better than most transport modes)… but crucially when it comes to technical and management roles, the number is significantly lower.

For example, just under six percent of flight crew worldwide are women.

For our part, at ATAG we have tried to ensure that we get a fairer representation of female colleagues on stage here at the Summit. This year, 28% of our speakers are women… but we will continue to encourage others to join us here and move well beyond a third of speakers next year!

Change is happening - there is a real shift in the next generation of aviation industry trainees and cadets, over 10% of pilot students in many countries are female and higher proportions of female engineering trainees are joining their male colleagues.

It’s a promising sign, but one that needs to keep being improved to ensure that our workforce can start resembling our passenger profile.

It is not just about encouraging women to work in the industry either – SDG 10 on reduced inequalities should challenge us in two ways:

  • It should challenge us all to ensure that people of all backgrounds, races, physical abilities and sexual orientations feel that aviation is a place they can work. On this note, we shall hear tomorrow from a speaker doing just this in Africa, where not enough young Africans are engaged in careers in the sector.
  • And SDG10 should challenge us to drive for equality in the communities we serve and our passengers. Access to mobility can be a fundamental driver of improved welfare. Making air transport more democratic over the past decades has opened up connectivity to whole sections of the population which could never fly in the past. The success of this in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific must also come true in Africa and Latin America.

With SDG 7, affordable and clean energy, we are at the very start of a cleaner energy revolution within our sector as well.

Roger and his bird friends have always fueled themselves with renewable energy, but it has taken us a little longer to get the use of sustainable aviation fuel off the ground.

Today, over 40,000 commercial flights have already been made on sustainable fuel and we expect that number to grow exponentially as more airports join the four that are already providing this new source of fuel to airlines through their normal supply systems: Oslo, Los Angeles, Stockholm and Bergen.

The progress is remarkable, but the challenge remains to make this a regular part of our fuel supply. We will hear all about that challenge and how it can be overcome later this morning.

Next week in Mexico City, ICAO will host the Second Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels where it will present a vision for how the development of sustainable aviation fuel will progress.

We fully support ICAO’s vision of 2% of global aviation fuel being sustainable by 2025. That Vision is within touching distance and achievable.

We should then assess how the work to get there has progressed before setting ourselves – and governments – a longer-term goal for even more significant uptake.

The analysis shows that up to 100% of the fuel in 2050 could be from sustainable sources with the right policy measures in place…

It is vital that governments get on board with this and we urge all states to throw their support behind these new sources of fuel for aviation.

It is important for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is climate change, SDG13.

Exactly one year ago, governments, industry and civil society were gathered in Montreal – in the throes of creating a truly historic milestone for aviation and climate change.

What was delivered at the 39th ICAO Assembly was extraordinary: the world’s first sectoral market-based measure, the famous CORSIA.

As a side note, on behalf of ATAG and the broader aviation community, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the personal leadership and courage of President Aliu in building the consensus that led to the CORSIA Agreement.

With the agreement now in place, we are well into the implementation phase – striving to ensure that all parties – airlines, business aircraft operators, governments and crucially the carbon markets – are ready for 1 January 2021 when CORSIA comes into effect.

But to insert a note of caution: the deadline for action is actually much sooner than that.

Aircraft operators will need to start monitoring emissions from 1 January 2019 and in fact be prepared to do so by this time next year. Governments will also need to make sure they are ready to perform their crucial role in verification over the next 18 months.

Capacity building on both sides is absolutely critical. Too many governments and operators are still unaware of their obligations, or think they are exempt because their state has not yet volunteered to participate in the early phases of CORSIA.

We are very concerned that this process of capacity building is moving too slowly and I would really encourage ICAO to throw all of its expertise and resources behind this issue to ensure capacity building with governments.

And, that is why earlier this year, we launched our Countdown to CORSIA campaign to ensure that all operators know what is required of them.

Our simple message is this: if you fly international services, you will in all likelihood need to start monitoring your emissions from 2019, whether your state has volunteered for CORSIA or not.

All operators with international services need to know what their obligations are and I appeal to all of you here in the audience to pass that message on to your colleagues at other operators.

We have developed a simple checklist you can follow – copies are out in the exhibition and we have a dedicated, high-level workshop tomorrow afternoon.

Speaking of volunteers… of the 191 ICAO Member States, so far 72 have volunteered to take part in CORSIA from day one.

This means over 80% of the growth in CO2 from international aviation after 2020 will be offset through this world-first scheme.

We are seeing some remarkable willingness from countries that would otherwise be exempt from the entire scheme to stand up and be counted.

Botswana, Jamaica, El Salvador, Burkina Faso and Gabon are just some of the developing states showing true aviation leadership and strong climate change leadership.

With the same collective effort and spirit that brought the CORSIA Agreement about, surely we as an aviation community can fill in even more of those gaps and get more countries on board with the scheme in the coming months and years.

So why does it make sense for all States to volunteer before 2020? There are a number of reasons.

  • First, it demonstrates a State’s commitment to address climate change.
  • Second, increased coverage will generate more demand for carbon offsets.
  • And, as more States join the scheme, more coverage and greater climate benefits will be achieved.
  • If all States volunteer for CORSIA, it helps avoid a patchwork of measures for operators.
  • And it increases the sustainability of international flights.
  • And, finally, in a very practical consideration, volunteering for CORSIA allows your operators to gain experience with carbon trading earlier rather than when the scheme becomes mandatory.

But we have to continually remind ourselves that CORSIA is just one element of our climate action. The most important work we can do on climate change is to actually bring down emissions, through sustainable aviation fuel, new technology and improvements in our operations and infrastructure.

Our efforts in those areas are paying off – we are still exceeding the 1.5% per annum efficiency improvement goal we set for ourselves back in 2009.

But like geese flying in formation, we must not give up on looking for even more efficiencies – our marginal gains… so that we ourselves can travel further.

And, honking encouragement to each other and celebrating mutual success along the way can help us as well!

I really believe that the leadership role industry is showing on climate change should be used as a model for industry action in other areas.

We are a unique sector that has the power to effectively transform the world through partnerships and collaboration.

Some of the SDG areas are going to present significant opportunities to show how air transport can proactively push for change and promote smart regulation.

So, SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production urges us to look at our supply chains and ensure that all parts of the business are living up to the best standards in employment and resourcing.

We should also push further on dealing with waste from aircraft cabins – this is something that passengers are asking us to prioritise and there should be reasonable solutions to regulate the treatment of international waste – but it will require governments to help us get to those solutions.

And on SDG 4 on education, I think each person in this room would count themselves privileged to have had access to the quality of education which has opened up so many varied and interesting professional opportunities – I know that I certainly consider myself fortunate in this regard. And our industry can continue to play a leading role in facilitating access to important educational opportunities for a diverse talent pipeline.

But we must also continue to show how education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is key to the future of our industry. We need the engineers to build the clean aircraft of the future, the chemists and agroscientists to find the energy source we will rely on, and the men AND women to look after the operation.

SDG 8 looks at decent work and economic growth and SDG9 at industry, innovation and infrastructure. It is here that we can demonstrate the power of air transport and tourism to move our world from the dirty primary industries of the past and towards sustainable tourism – planned and carried out in a responsible way – as one of the key economic drivers of the future.

Many of us will be shocked by the images coming from Puerto Rico at the moment. Sadly, they are all too similar to images of disaster we have seen from a number of other devastated communities. They remind us of the power of nature and the impact that human activity is having on the severity of storms.

But the response – from our industry in particular – has shown the power of people coming together as well. I would like to particularly mention American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, FedEx, Lufthansa and others which have been working to help the people of Puerto Rico at this most difficult of times.

Our industry responds fast and well to many of these situations and it shows the most acute example of business supporting sustainable development across a range of the goals.

At ATAG, we are inspired by the sustainable development goals always to look to the future. And we are reminded by the SDGs to demonstrate that, while we can be proud of our achievements in many of these areas, we are not satisfied with what we have done so far and will not rest until we have achieved even greater progress.

Ladies and Gentlemen

This Summit is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of what we have done, prepare for the flight ahead and honk encouragement at each other like Roger will be doing as he takes off for the winter holiday season.

By flying together, we can fly further.