CAPA unveils historic, first-of-its-kind airline sustainability benchmarking report

TD Editor

Centre for Aviation (CAPA), the world’s most trusted source of market intelligence for the aviation and travel industry, part of the Aviation Week Network (AWN), together with carbon reduction strategists, Envest Global are pioneering the effective evaluation of airline carbon emissions in a new report released today.

The airline industry, still reeling from the financial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now facing another critical challenge as global pressure increases to accelerate net zero emissions, to exceed the targets set out in the United Nation’s Paris Agreement.

The industry first Airline Sustainability Benchmarking Report includes a comprehensive investigation of 52 airlines, and a selection of corporations with large business travel requirements, to identify market trends linked to sustainability.

Coinciding with the UN’s COP26 Climate Summit, the report indicates steep cost increases for airlines as emission reduction measures are introduced, strengthened, or expedited, including higher carbon pricing and mandated blending of sustainable aviation fuels.

It also foreshadows even greater costs – including failure – for airlines which do not take meaningful action to cut their emissions, as corporate customers and investors, needing to meet their own sustainability targets, increasingly make their support conditional on emission reduction strategies and proof of results.

Commenting on the importance of the report, CAPA Chairman Emeritus Peter Harbison said: “Climate change is a critical challenge, and climate inaction is a critical mistake. We have partnered with Envest Global to assess the impact on airlines of increased pressure to reduce aircraft carbon emissions, and to assist them in understanding global trends and meeting the growing expectations of stakeholders.”

Envest Global Executive Director, Advisory, David Wills, said that historically, the environmental performance of most companies had been driven by the need to comply with regulations. “What we’re seeing now is that pressure on companies to improve their environmental performance is coming from their customers and investors, to line up with their own commitments,” Wills said.

“We’ve looked at over 100 corporations which are among the biggest corporate travellers globally, and there’s a very consistent pattern that’s emerging. About three quarters of those companies have made some net zero emissions commitment, and those commitments are typically in the timeframe of 2025-2030. But if you compare that to airlines that have net zero commitments, they’re typically in the 2050 timeframe – a 20-year difference.”

“About 40 per cent of those companies also have specific travel carbon reduction goals, in the order of 30 to 50 per cent from a 2019 base. If airlines can’t better align their actions with corporate customers, then there will be a reduction in corporate travel, or a shift of business to more sustainable airlines, to enable those big customers to meet their own climate goals,” he warned.

Key findings of the CAPA-Envest Airline Sustainability Benchmarking Report 2021 include:

  • The next three to five years could see failures of multiple airlines that do not have the financial strength to invest in decarbonisation, and/or misjudge the need to accelerate their climate mitigation plans.
  • Key stakeholders, including corporate customers and investors, increasingly will demand more reliable data on decarbonisation and proof of meaningful action, to make informed decisions on purchasing or investment.
  • There is insufficient carbon offset data reported by airlines to enable any meaningful assessment of their source, location, and validity.
  • In the next three to five years, carbon offsets for airlines will likely become uneconomic, unavailable, or unacceptable, with offset prices rising with broader demand for decarbonisation, and tighter criteria for legitimate offsets.
  • The role of procurement departments within customer organisations will broaden to take into account not just the cost of travel, but also selection of the most suitable and sustainable airlines and flights, based on cost, emissions, convenience, and COVID-19 drivers.
  • Aircraft fleet age has a clear impact on aviation emissions. If the average age of aircraft deployed in 2019 was reduced by one year, total CO2 for the whole airline industry would have been reduced by about 40 million tonnes, or 4.5 per cent.
  • Cargo data is largely absent from sustainability reporting, even though it accounts for about 12 per cent of the air transport industry’s total load tonnage

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