Time for the airlines to get their green thinking into the air

Aviation Renewable Energy

Last week’s elections across Europe brought a wave of local and European politicians centre stage that represent strong environmental agendas.

It seems inevitable that this will be followed in a raft of general elections over coming years.

That, in turn, will drive a political movement which uses factual analysis to introduce myriad stick-and-carrot policies designed to change the way in which we consume and pollute.

Every industry has to adjust its thinking to work within this evolving political and economic reality.

Those who choose to continue as before will not, I suspect, thrive financially.

Instead, they will encounter a growing list of policies designed to either eliminate them or revolutionise the way in which they do business.

In aviation, I believe this is creating huge opportunity for those entrepreneurs and business leaders who recognise and leverage the mega trends developing.

Between the 1930s and 1970s the leader and founder of the world’s largest airline of the time, Pan Am, cajoled and hustled aircraft manufacturers to stretch their teams in pursuit of faster and bigger airplanes.

Juan Trippe started his career when open cockpits and propellers defined commercial aviation.

He regularly challenged the large plane companies to bring forward technologies that would deliver performances that seemed incredible at the time.

His constant hustle and promise of new orders helped deliver revolutionary jet engines, global range and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet among others.

When he started, aircraft carried small numbers of passengers over short distances at low altitudes.

When he finished, a Boeing 747 could take more than 400 people non-stop halfway around the world at over 10,000m height.

We should look to the airlines of today to adopt Mr Trippe’s spirit but with an entirely different agenda.

Assume for a minute, and I passionately believe this, that aviation is a key enabler of economic growth for all economies and especially those in the developing world.

If so, the industry can deliver strong growth over coming decades but only if it can deploy technologies that do zero damage to the environment in which they work.

That vision requires dramatic changes in the way in which we power commercial aircraft.

They must be filled with fuels that are not fossil based.

After that, they must have zero damaging emissions when in operation.

Imagine if the aviation industry could be the first to deliver on those two metrics.

It would provide a global licence to drive economic growth through aviation while at the same time making itself the preferential form of transport compared to polluting cars, buses, trains and ferries.

To get there requires a mammoth amount of engineering success by engine and airframe manufacturers.

Asking them politely to do this won’t work because they live and breathe in a commercial world.

The surest way to drive radical change is by dangling large aircraft orders in front of them if they bring forward aircraft that provide the same speed and range attributes as current planes but without an iota of environmental damage.

I’d like to see the toughest CEOs of airlines and leasing companies in the US, Europe, and Asia throwing down the gauntlet in public in front of Airbus and Boeing on this point.

Invent aircraft that deliver zero emissions and we will order them in the hundreds.

Failure should not be an option.

This will not happen overnight. The manufacturers will need constant pressure to deliver such an advance in aviation technology.

The slower they move forward the greater the probability that politicians will impose punitive taxes and charges designed to not only remove older aircraft from the global fleet but to actually reduce the volume of flying worldwide.

Aside from the damage that would cause for the aviation industry it would condemn many developing economies to extended poverty.

We need a new paradigm of thinking by airlines and aircraft manufacturers if the environmental agenda is to be embraced as a pathway to growth instead of something to be feared.

Can the new Juan Trippe please step forward and hurl a few grenades around this issue?

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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