Spohr sees CO2 savings argument as key to breakthrough of Single European Sky | Interview
Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa Group and chairman of Airlines for Europe (A4E) this year, believes the industry needs to focus on potential CO2 savings by lobbying European governments to reform traffic management air.
The glacial progress of implementing the Single European Sky initiative over the past two decades means that the potential operational efficiencies of ATM reform remain somewhat of a holy grail for the industry in a context of persistent political stalemate.
Speaking in an interview at the recent A4E aviation summit in Brussels, Spohr – who is chairing the air trade group for the second time this year – again highlighted the potential gains that the Single European Sky could bring. , but recognized that a shift in direction in the messaging industry is needed.
“So far, we have used two arguments to put pressure on [for] single European sky. One argument is that it costs us money. The other argument is that it costs time for our passengers, our guests. Apparently those two currencies, money and time, didn’t work, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are.
“Now there is a new currency in town, CO2, and this currency is probably having a stronger impact. So unfortunately, let’s not talk about time and money anymore when it comes to the benefits of the Single European Sky. Let’s just talk about the CO2 impact it has.
He highlights the efforts pilots make to optimize flights, but says this work is compromised by the extra fuel burn caused by having to enter holding patterns or fly unoptimized approaches. Spohr notes that the single European sky could save 10% of emissions. “This [the lack of progress] can be frustrating, but it doesn’t help. That’s why we have to talk about it all the time.
Pressure on airlines to address the environmental impact of flying continues to mount, particularly in Europe where governments and regulators are looking at taxation as a mechanism to address the problem.
“I think this industry has to deal with the fact that we have disproportionate visibility,” says Spohr. “We all know the famous 2.8% share of CO2 in the world coming from aviation; if you look at the short haul, it’s a lot less. But it is nevertheless overproportionately visible and discussed.
“If you were in shipping, an industry [with] record profits while we talk, and more or less the same CO2 impact as us, nobody talks about it. And if you were to ask who could afford to invest more in new technologies, is it shipping or aviation? Well, look at earnings and balance sheets.
“Aviation creates emotional reactions, mostly positive – it helps us attract customers and staff – but in this one it probably works against us,” he says.
However, he believes the value of aviation – and therefore the ability to promote a sustainable industry – is now better understood by governments due to the impact of first the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine.
“I think there’s a more balanced perception of those two [arguments]. It’s not ‘or else’. We can have affordable air travel and connectivity in Europe – and beyond – and at the same time reduce environmental impact,” says Spohr.
“I think the industry has made progress. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic, and now also a war, to wake people up, this freedom to move around, the freedom to be in contact with other cultures, economies, nations and peoples – this is not acquired.
He believes these challenges mean governments have “rediscovered” the importance of aviation. “Global supply chains have not only been kept alive by global aviation, they have been repaired by global aviation,” he says, referring to the challenges of land and sea transport during the crisis.
“Aviation has proven on the cargo side that this world would not exist as we know it without aviation.”
On the passenger side, Spohr highlights the role of aviation in connecting different communities as having a peacekeeping element.
“Unfortunately, with these two events without which we could all have lived – the pandemic and the terrible war – it has become more visible
“So let’s also share confidence and self-confidence in what we do. There’s more than making money, or making more money, or losing less money, to what we do,” Spohr says.