ATAG Forum: Michael Gill Speech


Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders

Speech by Michael Gill, Executive Director, Air Transport Action Group

13 May 2019, Montreal

In the next 60 seconds, …

• 8,291 passengers will board an aircraft
• 84 flights will take off somewhere in the world
• $13 million worth of world trade will be carried on a plane
• … and, not to forget our culinary well-being, nearly 4,000 airlines meals will be served.

Every day, an average of …

• 120,000 flights carry some
• 12 million passengers to their destinations at one of
• 3,700 commercial airports.
• Some 1,300 airlines operate
• 45,000 routes safely guided through the skies by around
• 170 air navigation service providers.

And the problem is we get so involved in the day-to-day business of connecting people and transporting goods that we forget just what an extraordinary show our industry performs – day-in and day-out – on such a scale.

It can only happen because of global standards. Whilst we cooperate constantly within the industry to make this system work, our industry’s most enduring global partnership is with ICAO, the specialised United Nations agency with a unique role: to help set global standards for this most global of industries.

This is becoming increasingly important as the world’s economic centre of gravity continues to shift eastward and south, the powerhouses of Asia build global strength and emerging economies in Latin America and Africa gain from trade and development.

Interestingly, the centre of gravity of global air traffic closely mirrors broader economic trends.

Rising middle classes in Asia will seek to travel more and benefit from the connectivity that air travel brings – for business, education, tourism and much more. Already, Asia-Pacific has overtaken North America and Europe to become the largest aviation market in the world.
Consumers in Asia – but also increasingly in Africa and Latin America – will continue to seek new opportunities and take advantage of their increasing ability to travel.

So with shifting markets, international standards in aviation become even more important. This is what will support all regions around the globe in taking the opportunities and benefiting from the economic and social benefits that aviation’s connectivity implies – whilst of course respecting our environmental responsibility.

We have all said it, I’m sure: we live in a rapidly changing world. The shift in the global market is only one facet. And our industry is at the very forefront of this change.

• By 2030, the world population is estimated to reach 8.6 billion. That is nearly a billion more people than today – in just over a decade.

• 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. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 1 – the earliest date ever. This is the date when we as a global society have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year. We are again only a couple of months away from that worrying milestone.

• And, 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.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set the development agenda until 2030, ensuring that governments, civil society and businesses all work in the same direction to ensure the availability of resources and decent standards of living for generations to come.

So, the SDGs allow development frameworks to be set for government action. But they also provide an important framework for business, including our sector, for good reasons:

• This makes business sense. There is a clear correlation between a company’s sustainability track record and its financial performance and businesses thrive in societies with healthy and prosperous populations, living in a safe environment with clear rules of engagement and open borders.
• Governments are regulating following the themes of the SDGs, including in areas that they have not previously had to consider. This is increasingly 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.

As a global business sector, we too have to look at the role we play. Actions are being undertaken across all 17 SDGs by partners in our industry.

A number of the SDGs, including SDG8 on decent work and economic growth, SDG9 on innovation and infrastructure and SDG10 on reduced inequalities have a focus on economic development and are in many ways interconnected. These are areas in which aviation already has a significant contribution.

Every two years, ATAG prompts the industry to take a step back and look at the bigger picture with the update of our Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders report.

The two key findings of the latest 2018 report are: global air transport supports 65.5 million jobs and $2.7 trillion in global economic activity – providing decent work and economic growth across the global society. Over 10 million people are directly employed within our sector, at airlines, airports, in air traffic management and aerospace manufacturing.

But there are indirect effects, too. For example, we transport 57% of all international tourists and a third of world trade. Whole businesses exist based simply on rapid global transport.

And of course, it is not just about jobs and economic activity. We also highlight the vital social impacts of our sector.

Access to air services has grown substantially in the last decades and not only in the developed world. Aviation is no longer reserved for the wealthy, but something that more and more can afford. A ticket today costs passengers on average 70% less than in 1970. It is worth repeating this to policymakers: flying is not just for the rich, anymore.

SDG10 – reduced inequalities – challenges us to drive for equality in the communities we serve and our passengers. Access to mobility can be a fundamental driver of improved welfare.

Our industry continues to play a leading role in facilitating access to important educational opportunities for a diverse talent pipeline. In line with SDG4 on education. To access higher-quality education for many means travelling to another country, sometimes in another region of the globe. Without air transport, these opportunities simply would not be possible.

Just look at the very small ATAG team – combined between the five of us, we studied in eight different countries.

In some contexts, our role is even more keenly felt.

Small island states and remote communities in places that are impossible to reach by road, rail or sea rely on air transport for access to the rest of the world and to essential services, such as health care.

For goods requiring secure transport, or special conditions such as medicines and vaccines, the benefits are clear. In some cases, it’s the perishable nature of the goods that requires swift transportation.

And yes – we transport over half of international tourists, but tourism is not just about our annual holidays – important as those may seem. Increasingly, tourism is becoming a vital part of national and regional economies, replacing dirty primary industries.

I mentioned our enduring partnership with ICAO. And you’ll have heard me speak before about the vision and foresight that went into the preparation of its founding constitution, the Chicago Convention.

And I and others look at that guidance when thinking about our preparation for this year’s ICAO Assembly.

The invitation to participate in the 1944 Chicago Convention recognised the need to establish an international civil aviation system

“[…] so that all important trade and population areas of the world may obtain the benefits of air transport as soon as possible […]”.

The benefits of air transport… a concept that resonates over 70 years later at ATAG, at our Forum today and in the entire industry. But in the seven decades that have passed, two significant trends have also taken effect:

• The important trade and population areas of the world are not the same as they were in 1944. They have shifted eastwards and south, as I have mentioned. With the result that more… and other… populations increasingly benefit from air travel and the economic and social benefits it implies.

• But another shift has taken place in our understanding of aviation supporting the global society and not only the important trade and population areas of the world. Today, we see air transport as a means to help achieve the global development goals. That includes in small island states far from the next hub and the regions with – so far – fewer passenger numbers.

The use of the word ‘important’ in 1944 was a different set of language for a different time. Today we must take comfort in the way that institutions like ICAO… and indeed our industry… can help lift standards across the world. Aviation should be safe everywhere, it should be secure everywhere… and it should be sustainable everywhere. As ICAO so rightly reminds us, no country should be left behind.

At ATAG, the sustainable development goals inspire us to always look to the future. They remind us that we can be proud of what we have achieved in so many ways. But they also drive us ever forward.

Indeed, SDG 13 is all about climate action and, as we have heard already today we have a lot to be proud of, but as with all parts of the economy, we also have a lot of work to do.

As we look towards the ICAO Assembly in September, the industry would like to ensure member states meeting there set their sights on action and ambition.

Action to ensure that CORSIA remains the success it currently is: the first global mechanism of its type for any sector, built on political consensus and broad application is something to be very proud of. But it must be able to start its life in good health and without complications. Global standards help boost ambition everywhere. We need strong support from states to the principles of CORSIA at this year’s assembly – including the view that this is the only practical way to deal with emissions growth from international aviation in the short and medium term.

But it’s not just about maintaining the status quo. Ambition is also needed. The industry set a long-term goal for aviation emissions 10 years ago and we are currently exploring the pathways to 2050 following years of progress in technology, operations and sustainable fuels.

Governments must also look to a long-term goal for the sector, but we emphasise that this should be done with care and with all available facts. A rigorous process to determine the way forward will provide much more certainty and global applicability than rushing towards a goal and then working out how to get there.

Collaborative efforts by governments, with businesses and civil society all working together is needed to achieve the SDGs and to respond to perhaps our greatest human challenge: climate change.

Luckily, our sector is experienced in working in partnership to set and achieve system-wide goals. In safety and security, and more recently also in climate action, air transport at a global level has followed the operational philosophy of working together for the benefit of all.

In the spirit of flying in formation.

It’s that spirit that makes our industry so unique and it convinces me that with our joint force, propelling ourselves with a lower carbon footprint helped by global standards, the benefits of aviation will continue to be felt around the globe for many decades to come.