With aviation’s effect on the environment garnering closer attention, regional airline delegates received fair warning from European Regions Airline Association (ERA) director general Mike Ambrose at their general assembly in Athens, Greece, last month to expect “massively increased pressure.” He said that airlines in the region accept the proposed European emissions trading scheme (ETS) as the “least harmful” economic instrument proposed as a way of offsetting damage.
Ambrose said that environmental impact assessments were seriously flawed by a lack of objectivity because the consultants advising policy makers also produced the impact statements. The environment poses a “complex multi-dimensional problem” for which proposed solutions often are “simple [and] uni-dimensional,” according to Ambrose, who claimed many European Parliament members have “no interest in the negative effects of the ETS.” He pointed out that while leading nations such as Brazil, China and the U.S. provide strong resistance to emissions trading, some states see public environmental concerns simply as an opportunity to raise additional tax revenue.
Ambrose told ERA members that aviation produces 1.5 percent of European CO2 emissions, which in turn accounts for 0.5 percent globally, a proportion that would increase six-fold by 2050, he added. Worldwide, said Ambrose, air transport produces some 600 million metric tons of CO2, compared with 2.5 times that quantity from commercial shipping (excluding passenger cruise operations).
“Deforestation releases as much CO2 in 24 hours as eight million people flying from London to New York,” he said. He added that a round-trip flight between London and Barcelona emits 260 kilograms (573 pounds) of CO2 per passenger, while using “energy-saving” electric light bulbs in place of “ordinary” ones (of unstated power consumption for unstated periods) could “save 400 kilograms (882 pounds) per year.”
Ambrose characterized European Parliament environmental committee proposals as “extreme” and likely to quadruple airline costs to E20 billion ($28.5 billion) a year; he suggested they had been proposed “without consideration for airlines or jobs.” He said the ERA will continue to monitor ETS plans and try to ensure that money raised from the auctioning of emissions permits goes to aviation research and development. Ambrose said that the main challenge involves “communicating to extremists who refuse to listen or care.”
A Public Relations Battle
Public-relations consultant Steve Dunne of the Brighter Group, which counts six airlines and airports among its current customers, took up Ambrose’s challenge. He offered three key elements in “winning the PR battle” against environmentalists: “Be united, be consistent, be persistent.”
Citing El Al, Korean Air Lines and South African Airways as operators now seeking representation, Dunne said airlines increasingly look for image promotion. “Aviation needs to put its message across more effectively,” he said. “Global-warming prophets project high sea levels and higher temperatures, a problem because aviation is blamed. For many people, ‘environmentally friendly aviation’ is an oxymoron. The myth is out there.”
Dunne explained how the “climate camp” set up at London Heathrow in August involved a “skillful PR machine lined up against aviation, [using] ten professional [publicists to brief] 150 international media representatives.” (The weeklong event protested the airport’s planned third runway and drew attention to the issue of carbon emissions.) He advised airlines not to dismiss such people easily, saying that 75 percent of 3,600 people surveyed believe that less flying will reduce environmental impact.
“Aviation is not seen to be united; there is no single voice or body putting the
[industry] position forward,” said Dunne. “[You] need a strategy that takes the emotion out of the equation [and is] more specific in acknowledging the actual [effect] of aviation. The industry cannot argue that emissions can be eliminated. Arguing aviation is not a big culprit is not credible.”
Accordingly, the industry needs to be seen as environmentally proactive. Dunne suggested a coalition of interests to launch a universal single measurement for aviation “to help each other, not compete against each other. [Otherwise] the pressure will rise. You need a goal that the whole industry can support.”
His ideas include third-party “endorsers” seen as neutral experts, a quarterly barometer of industry progress, supported by open and honest answers to questions. Above all, the message should “be persistent, never letting a day go by without
a message integrating social concerns into corporate behavior.”