Google Ups the Ante on Flight Search as IATA Confirms Net Zero 2020, and Other Key Takeaways from IATA AGM

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Airlines, News

The big announcement from this year’s IATA Annual General Meeting—a commitment by IATA member airlines to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050—was perfectly timed. The same week, technology giant Google revealed that its route search results would offer details on the carbon footprint for each form of transport, including aviation.

The Google announcement has profound repercussions for flight search and retail. Google has weighted the results based on personal space used in the cabin. Individuals searching for premium seating, either Premium Economy, Business or First, will find a higher carbon footprint rating for those tickets, Google reveals, in the details of how carbon footprint is calculated for flights. Other considerations include aircraft type, favouring flights flown on more efficient aircraft and the route itself.

Google’s calculations are based on a 2019 algorithmic model by the European Environmental Agency (EEA), which Google deems to be “the most up-to-date.”

It is too soon to say how Google including these new details in its Flight Search results will impact consumer decision making, but it will raise awareness. The differentiation by cabin-class may influence more eco-conscious luxury consumers to re-think their tickets. Though airlines can undoubtedly address this challenge by raising awareness of their sustainability initiatives, we will want to watch how different airlines adapt. Adding another layer of complication, Google will also show train routes, where available, as an alternative to flights.

Even as airlines work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, they have guessed correctly that the concern over aviation sustainability would not dampen during this time. The Net Zero by 2050 commitment will not be easy to achieve.

  • Airlines will need to mitigate8 gigatons of carbon.
  • IATA foresees that 65% of this will be decreased through sustainable aviation fuels.
  • New propulsion technology, such as hydrogen, would resolve another 13%.
  • Efficiency improvements will contribute a further 3% carbon reduction.
  • The remainder could be dealt with through carbon capture and storage (11%) and offsets (8%).

There are significant hurdles to overcome, including an adequate supply of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), government support, and infrastructural investment. Indeed, there were some objections to the specific requirements by Chinese member airlines, but the resolution passed, and IATA has put forward a plan to achieve this target.

The resolution demands that all industry stakeholders address the environmental impact of their policies, products, and activities with concrete actions and clear timelines, including:

  • Fuel-producing companies bringing large scale, cost-competitive sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to the market.
  • Governments and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) eliminating inefficiencies in air traffic management and airspace infrastructure.
  • Aircraft and engine manufacturers producing radically more efficient airframe and propulsion technologies; and
  • Airport operators providing the needed infrastructure to supply SAF, at cost, and in a cost-effective manner.

“The world’s airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. “The post-COVID-19 re-connect will be on a clear path towards net zero. That will ensure the freedom of future generations to sustainably explore, learn, trade, build markets, appreciate cultures and connect with people the world over. With the collective efforts of the entire value chain and supportive government policies, aviation will achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”


Survey Says People Want to Fly

 People are eager to return to the skies as soon as possible. IATA’s updated consumer survey, conducted on behalf of the association by research firm Rockland Dutton, show that 73% of consumers believe that travel restrictions have negatively impacted their quality of life.

Even with concerns over the Delta variant and frustrations with the travel process during COVID, 22% of those surveyed said they would not delay in getting back on a plane as soon as the pandemic is over, and 39% said that they would only wait a month or two before flying again.

Many (47%) believe their countries should reopen borders with most countries (except where cases are high).

The majority (87%) believe there must be a balance between managing COVID-19 risk and re-starting the economy.

In terms of risk mitigation, 86% said that requiring passengers to be vaccinated would boost their confidence in air travel either somewhat or significantly. Additionally, 80% said that people who have been vaccinated should be able to travel by air. However, 65% said it would be morally wrong to restrict travel only to vaccinated people.

Quarantine policy is still affecting demand, with 84% of those surveyed saying they would not travel if there is a chance they might be quarantined at their destination.

Most interestingly, 85% of those surveyed either somewhat or strongly agreed with the sentiment that COVID-19 will not disappear, so we need to manage risks while living and travelling normally.

Current government policies for air travel restrictions and border reopening have a negative impact. The varying costs of tests required is a significant concern and barrier to travel for 75% of those surveyed, and the inconvenience of it is a barrier for 77%. 80% of those surveyed felt that governments should bear the cost of COVID-19 testing, and 62% thought they should not have to be tested if they have proof of vaccination.

Of course, health comes first. Health officials are more qualified to guide governments in making these decisions than any business. Still, there is something to the issue of high testing costs and the paperwork required to prove vaccination and testing status.

“There is a message here for governments,” said Walsh. “People are willing to be tested to travel. But they don’t like the cost or the inconvenience. Both can be addressed by governments. The reliability of rapid antigen tests is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). Broader acceptance of antigen testing by governments would reduce inconvenience and cost—costs that the WHO’s International Health Regulations stipulate should be borne by governments. It is also clear that while people accept testing and other measures such as mask-wearing as necessary, they want to return to more normal ways of travel when it is safe to do so.”


IATA Travel Pass Advances, but Governments Don’t

To ease the jumble of paperwork and offer a more reliable method of health data tracking, IATA also announced that six more airlines had agreed to implement the IATA Travel Pass in a phased rollout across their networks. Etihad Airways, Jazeera Airways, Jetstar, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian will join Emirates Airline in implementing this app.

“After months of testing, IATA Travel Pass is now entering the operational phase. The app has proven itself to be an effective tool to manage the complex mess of travel health credentials that governments require. And it’s a great vote of confidence that some of the world’s best known airline brands will be making it available to their customers over the coming months,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

There is still great concern over the significant variations of requirements from government to government and concerns that a lack of universal policy will lead to heavy airport congestion as air travel resumes to pre-COVID levels.

A look at the top 50 travel markets, which account for 92% of global traffic, reveals the disconnect. As IATA details:

  • Of the 50 states, 38 have some form of COVID-19 restriction on who can enter. Only seven had no entry restrictions or quarantine requirements upon arrival. A further five have no additional restriction on who can enter but maintain quarantine measures for some after arrival.

There is no consistency among the 38 states which retain entry restrictions:

  • Twenty states exempt or foresee exemptions from restrictions in various forms for vaccinated travellers, but
    • Only six are confirmed to exempt minors (who are unable to be vaccinated in most markets) when they travel with vaccinated adults. And there is no consistency on the age definition of minors.
    • Nine states do not recognize the full WHO list of vaccines
    • There are at least five different definitions for the point after inoculation at which vaccines are considered to be effective
    • There is no agreement on the duration of the validity period for a traveller to be considered vaccinated
  • Only four states (Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria) recognize immunity resulting from previous COVID-19 infection as equivalent to vaccination
    • There is no consistency on what is needed to prove prior infection

There are complex conditions imposed by the 46 states requiring pre-departure testing

  • Twenty-four only accept PCR testing
  • Sixteen recognize antigen tests (of which three require PCR in certain circumstances)
  • Eighteen states exempt vaccinated travellers from testing
  • Twenty states provide exemptions from testing requirements for recovered COVID-19 travellers, but under differing conditions and with equally little consistency on how to prove prior infection
  • Thirty-three states exempt minors from testing, but with no consistency on the age and, in some cases, differing rules if the minor is accompanied by a vaccinated adult
  • Testing time-window varies broadly, including specifications by test type

“The situation is a mess. It’s stalling recovery. Complete harmonization is unlikely. But some simple best practices that travellers can comprehend should be achievable,” said Walsh.

Digital health passes, like the IATA Travel Pass, will be an essential tool to avoid travel chaos on reopening.

“Europe has made a good start. The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) is an efficient and reliable standard to record test and vaccination status. If governments are looking for a standard to follow, this is our recommendation. And if governments are looking for a ready-made solution to manage travel health credentials using e-gates, IATA Travel Pass is a solution. Irrespective of government use, an automated solution is essential for airlines. They will need to manage documentation verification using automated check-ins. If not, airport wait times and congestion will skyrocket as travel volumes increase. After extensive testing, it’s great to see IATA Travel Pass entering regular operations,” said Walsh.