“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It’s your Captain, Jon, speaking and I’d like to welcome you aboard this euroAir flight to your chosen destination. At euroAir your safety is our highest priority!
In just a moment the cabin crew will be showing you a demonstration of the safety procedures on board this aircraft, do please pay close attention.
We’ve got just a few more pre-flight safety checks to complete up here and then we’ll be on our way.”
“Oh, and just to let you know – while we do prioritise your safety onboard the aeroplane, I’m afraid your destination is currently at risk of being engulfed by forest fires, because of the climate change this flight and many others are contributing to… Whatever, please make yourself comfortable and enjoy the flight!”
As a concept, it doesn’t exactly stand up to scrutiny, does it?
And yet for years, this has been the effective position of the vast majority of the airline industry. It has moved ever so slightly in recent times, inching towards a bit of token greenwashing, and in just the last few months the industry appears to have noticed the attitude of society has shifted around it – some airlines now state that they will become more pro-active about improving their environmental impact.
Without doubt, aviation’s warming impact contributes to the climate emergency we all face. While current estimates suggest around 2% of global CO2 emissions come from the aviation sector, the non-CO2 warming effects are reckoned to bring its total percentage of all warming effects to around 5%.
It may not in percentage terms be as large as some critics would make out, but its contribution to warming cannot be ignored if the world is to tackle the problem.
So, what role do pilots have to play in all this?
An essential start is recognising that the industry we are an intrinsic part of, on which our livelihoods depend, which we literally drive on a day to day basis, is part of the problem, and logically this means…
Pilots are part of the problem. There, I said it. But that also means something very powerful. If we change what we do, what we seek, the direction we drive our industry in… pilots can be, indeed must be, part of the solution.
Pilots are part of aviation's climate problem and must be part of the solution
Since the first professional pilot associations were set up, nearly 100 years ago, the first thing they had to do was fight for a greater level of safety for their passengers and those who worked in the airlines. Safety has been the profession’s primary motivation ever since.
There are plenty of commercial interests shouting for attention in this industry, but precious few independent professional safety voices. Pilots are arguably the most influential of those few however, and as an often lone voice for public safety, the climate emergency dictates that we step forward and be heard.
Just like an aircraft accident, a technological failure, or a part falling off an aeroplane in flight, the industry’s impact on the climate is an aviation public safety issue – and so as we have previously, pilots must act.
That is why I am delighted that a few weeks ago at ECA’s June Conference, the European professional pilot community voted unanimously to embrace the need for our industry to act meaningfully on its climate impact, and for pilots to act and advocate to make decarbonisation of aviation happen.
The pilot profession brings to the table a broader and more in-depth knowledge of the practical reality of air operations across Europe than pretty much any other stakeholder. We will use this knowledge, combined with an independent professional safety ethos, to determine what can and must change to solve the problem. We will look at how operations must change to reduce aviation’s climate impact. And we will advocate for the right mix of wider policies such as market-based measures and emissions trading, sustainable fuels (including electrofuels), and well-designed financial instruments, investment and incentives, to reach science and society’s targets for carbon neutrality.
We will look at how operations must change to reduce aviation’s climate impact
It is too often forgotten that the airline industry exists to serve the public interest – it is an essential part of the infrastructure skeleton on which the wider economy relies. That public interest means providing a fair and high quality service to passengers who use it; providing decent, socially sustainable jobs to those who work in it; contributing to the social security and public service funding of the economies they operate in; and crucially being environmentally sustainable and responsible to the societies that tolerate it. At present it is questionable whether the industry as whole is meeting any of these needs, but on sustainability it is definitely failing.
Pilots will work with other stakeholders that understand this imperative and are dedicated to real and practical ways of solving aviation’s climate problem. We will not engage in tokenism, greenwashing, or pointless punitive measures that don’t actually fix the problem. Much like the approach we take to accident investigation or any other safety issue – asking “What do we need to do to stop the dangerous situation from happening?” Then doing no more and no less.
So, when you next step on a plane or read an article where a pilot says that your safety is their priority, you can be assured that they mean it, without pre-condition.
Whether you are in the aeroplane, underneath its flight path, or even if you have never set foot on an aeroplane at all and just, like all of us, want to live in a decent habitable world for you and your families – the pilot profession is determined to be part of the solution
by Capt. Jon Horne, ECA President