Global airline execs on flight shaming, 737 Max return and more

Courtesy Korean Air

Your next flight – and flights you take in the future – will benefit from discussions and decisions made by top brass from the global air transport industry in Seoul, South Korea last weekend.

More than a thousand airline CEOs and industry leaders were on hand for the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). On the agenda was everything from climate change and “flight shaming” to the future of the beleaguered 737 MAX, congested skies, baggage tracking and a myriad of ways to improve the flying experience.

Also on the list: A downgrade for the industry trade group’s 2019 profit expectations.

“Although 2019 is expected to be the 10th consecutive year of airline profits,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO told the group, “Rising costs, trade wars and other uncertainties are likely to have an impact on the bottom line. The prolonged grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft is taking its toll. And aviation, like all industries, is under intensified scrutiny for its impact on climate change.”

In December 2018, IATA forecast a profit of $35.5 billion for the global air transport industry in 2019. The revised outlook  downgrades that forecast to $28 billion.

“Airlines will still turn a profit this year, but there is no easy money to be made,” said de Juniac.

Restoring public trust when Boeing’s 737 MAX back returns to the skies

In his air transport industry report, IATA’s de Juniac said the two recent Boeing 737 MAX crashes and the grounding of the aircraft have damaged the aviation industry’s reputation,

“Trust in the certification system has been damaged – among regulators, between regulators and the industry and with the flying public,” said de Juniac, who called for improved coordination in the industry.

“To be clear, I am not advocating for knee-jerk reactions. But governments and industry must find a way to maintain public confidence in safety with fast and coordinated responses,” he added.  

Estimates for when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will give the 737 MAX the green light to fly again range from this summer to the end of the year. But even airline CEOs that don’t have 737 MAX planes in their fleets worry about what may happen if one country’s regulatory agency lifts the ban before others decide to do so.

“I do indeed believe this is what we are facing,” said Carsten Spohr, chairman and chief executive of the Lufthansa Group, during a panel discussion of airline executives, “Probably we will see the MAX flying domestically in the U.S. first before we see if flying somewhere else. But this is a global industry and we need global trust. [It will be] difficult to explain to our global passengers that the aircraft is safe in some part of the world and supposedly not safe somewhere else.”

To try to avoid this scenario, later this month IATA will meet with representatives from Boeing, 737 MAX customers and regulators from the FAA and other countries, said Gilberto Lopez Meyer, IATA’s senior vice-president for safety and flight operations. 

Airlines continue to combat carbon emissions

Climate change, and what airlines can and are doing to reduce and offset carbon emissions, is gaining more attention as global air travel is set to increase significantly and as the “flight shaming” anti-flying movement that started in Sweden starts to spread. 

In 2017, private and commercial aviation created about 859 million tons of CO2, or about 2% of all man-made carbon emissions, according to IATA.

To reduce emissions as air traffic increases, the industry has agreed to a wide variety of standards, mitigation measures and targets. And, at its meeting in Seoul, IATA members passed a resolution calling on governments to implement a global plan calling for carbon-neutral growth as of 2020 and a 50% reduction in the industry’s net CO2 emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

Fuel efficient airplanes, improvements in air traffic management and increased use of biofuels are among the tools helping the aviation industry reach reduced carbon emission goals and carbon offset programs are in the toolbox. But, while passengers tell IATA they support voluntary offset programs and more than 40 of the group’s member airlines offer them, IATA has found that take-up rates are low.

In fact, few hands were raised when a room full of airline executives were asked if they’d purchased carbon offsets for their own flights to the meeting in Seoul.

Airline industry’s to-do list:

Looking ahead, IATA member airlines, which represent more than 80 percent of all global air traffic, passed several other resolutions that could have a real impact on your travel experience.

One commits airlines to move forward with plans for using bar-coded baggage tags with radio-frequency identification (RFID) inlays, which can help keep checked luggage from going astray.

Another focuses airline attention on improving the air travel experience for people living with disabilities.

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