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Is travel playing its part in saving the planet?

In a world where everything is moving faster…why should flying towards extinction be any different?


According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), 2023 has been a year when air transportation very nearly returned to its pre-pandemic pace of activity. All regions, except Asia Pacific, are expected to reach or surpass their 2019 traffic levels in 2023. The report goes on to add that Passengers globally, have clearly voted with their wallets to tell the world that air transportation is necessary.


That the airline industry has been able to bounce back from a near total halt, in just three years time is a clear validation that air transportation is a necessary and indispensable form of connectivity. IATA reckons that in the long run, global passenger traffic looks set to double by 2040. Everything it appears looks hunky-dory for the airline industry – barring any unforeseen catastrophe…man-made or otherwise.


Underneath this rosy picture is a dark side that few in the industry care to disclose. Many people think that travel is destroying the planet and urge ‘that we act now’ – to make sustainable choices to protect the planet for future generations. How true! Air transportation remains the weakest link in the aviation value chain.


Just as much as global passenger traffic is soaring high, emissions from aviation are growing faster than any other mode of transport and could more than double (compared to 2019) by 2050. The travel industry’s failure to act is concerning – especially at a time when green-washing or making blown-up statements about one’s sustainability – all done as a means of attracting customers, is becoming widespread.


Airlines such as Austrian Airlines, that was guilty of advertising carbon-neutral flights when infact using 100% sustainable aviation fuel  and  Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad publishing ads promising that passengers would “fly more sustainably” and that they were  “committed to protecting the environment,” been found false and misleading, are some recent outrageously false claims that come to mind.


Rather than boast endlessly of aviations growth, policy-makers should at the same time address how they can de-carbonise the industry. And that includes reducing the long white stripes (referred to as contrails), one sees coming out of the jet engines, as well as the induced water vapour and cirrus clouds that planes trail behind them, which despite looking picturesque and deceptively harmless, pose a warming impact that is thrice that of carbon.


Other recommendations include the use of clean fuels to reduce the amount of pollutants released and changing flight paths to fly at lower altitude, where contrail formation is avoided. Re-routing less than 2% of flights in Japan reduced the warming effects of contrails by nearly 60%.


In the longer haul, ensuring air transportation’s access to renewable energy sources will allow the industry to play a responsible role in creating a growing global economy that is sustainable, inclusive, and even-handed.


Shafeek Wahab - Editor, Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Customer Service Trainer and Ex-Hotelier



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