The general and business aviation industry must be more outspoken and confident about its environmental achievements and goals if it is to successfully combat the growing hostility from the influential and media-savvy environmental lobby. That was the main message conveyed yesterday at the British Business and General Aviation Association's (BBGA) annual conference in London.
The conference, held at the Leonardo Royal Hotel London St Paul's, was briefly interrupted by a handful of climate activists from the group Fossil-free London. That activist group claimed in an Instagram post that the event was targeted to assert its belief that “aviation is totally unsustainable [and] no technology currently exists to turn it green.”
Rana Walker, co-founder and principal consultant for business development and crisis management firm GR&AT, told delegates that social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter are essential tools for the industry to combat misinformation from opponents of business aviation and to communicate its “positive story.”
“It’s something that we can’t ignore, so we have to engage—and engage in a smart way,” she said.
Environmental Protests and Social Media
Clickbait and misinformation sharing can be pervasive, Walker lamented. “We know that business aviation is responsible for only 0.04 percent of global carbon output, but you are often targeted [as heavy polluters],” she said. Consequently, much of the narrative from environmentalists and sections of the mainstream media is negative, resulting in frequent calls for a ban on private jets, flight shaming, hefty taxes on frequent flyers, “or even accusing the industry of greenwashing.”
Environmentalists have used the powers of social media to incredible effect to push their agendas. Notable among these, suggested Walker, are the UK-based activist group Just Stop Oil—which uses emotive publicity stunts such as defacing priceless artworks and historic buildings to draw attention to their cause—and Greta Thunberg. “The Greta Effect is steadfast, sensational, and all about sustainability,” said Walker.
“People believe her. People get behind her, especially the youth…so involving activists such as Greta in the conversation going forward is going to be extremely important, not just to inform, but to educate,” she added.
Hostility toward business aviation in Europe has also manifested in a host of protests by other activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion. These high-profile protests included blockading the entrances to Farnborough Airport and the Harrods aviation FBO at London Luton Airport in the UK. Similar protests were also staged in Milan-Linate airport in Italy and around 500 Dutch members of Greenpeace rode bicycles onto the business aviation enclave at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and blockaded aircraft for eight hours. “These groups have got momentum,” Walker conceded, “so it is important that as an industry you cooperate and work together.”
Combating the False Narrative
Walker described sustainability as “everyone’s issue. It’s our planet… and we want to do better for the future generations.”
It is imperative, therefore, that the industry communicates transparently the success it is making in this area. “You want to be net-zero by 2050? Make sure the policymakers and the public know the progress you are making towards that decarbonized future using social media, online and offline marketing,” said Walker.
This includes illustrating the progress being made in the development of sustainable aircraft and population systems, as well as in the production and availability of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). “SAF production tripled last year. So are you saying that across your platforms? In your engagement with the media and in conversations with the community? I hope so,” said Walker.
The industry can effectively collaborate through the media, local and national trade associations, and schools and universities “while adding a science-based activist to your company board could also help raise awareness,” she suggested.
Resetting the negative image of business aircraft as rich men’s extravagances is also essential in the quest for public approval. “In reality, most business aircraft are flown for medical, cargo, humanitarian, and business-related missions so that should be effectively promoted,” said Walker.
"Don’t sit back and be a victim, don’t deflect, but inform and educate,” she added.