The aviation industry was warned not to over-promise about the impact new greener technologies will have on its impact on the environment.

Emirates president Sir Tim Clark was speaking yesterday at the annual three-day Aviation Festival in London at which Extinction Rebellion climate change protestors have leafleted delegates.

In a CEO keynote interview, Sir Tim said he was not a pessimist about how technology will make the industry more environmentally friendly but he dismissed the prospect of battery powered electric aircraft solving the sector’s issues, particularly on long haul flights.

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He said he was more optimistic about hydrogen-fuelled engines and the incremental impact that moving towards greener energy sources can have in areas like ground handling activities.

“Let us not kid ourselves. In areas of the air space industry the holy grail is not going to be achieved over night. We are at the beginning of a hugely interesting era, but we are going to be operating the same aircraft as we see today, although maybe more efficiently. I’m not a pessimist, but I’m saying be careful about over-promising.”

Sir Tim said even though the aviation sector has grown “at a pace”, it was today operating 50% more efficiently than it was three or four decades ago and he said the emergence of the low cost carriers like easyJet had been “one of the best things that happened to the industry”.

“It has allowed access for all,” he said, and he added: “The likes of easyJet have done a fantastic job. They have revolutionised the movement of people.”

But Sir Tim said that today concerns about the environment pervade all our daily lives whether it’s to do with the clothes we wear, the cars we drive or the plastic we use.

And he said he understood the growing movement known in parts of northern Europe as fkygskam, or flight shaming, which was heightening the awareness of mankind to do something about its impact on the environment.

“It’s not really shaming of flight, it’s just really questioning do I really need to travel. I do not disagree with that. I’m not saying do not travel, I need your money, but on the other hand I would understand if you asked us what are our environmental priorities. I’m interested in responding to the concerns of the consumer about our environmental footprint.”

JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty said the growing environmental protest movement about flying was more pronounced in Europe than the US where there are not any real high speed rail alternatives. And she said the US was “woefully behind” in next-generation technologies. She added that regulators also have an important role to play but that her biggest concern was not regulators getting ahead of the industry but “doing the wrong thing”.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren agreed saying regulators in Europe must get on with agreeing the single European sky proposal, which he said would bring about a 15% to 20% saving on carbon emission if it was implemented, instead of worrying about how much more taxation they can put on the industry.

“More taxation means less profit for companies which means less investment in technology and it will be more costly for consumers to fly. That cannot be right,” he said.

Lundgren said any move to set a minimum price for flying would make the world less accessible and would exclude ordinary people from taking a holiday or travelling to do business. “If anything the world needs more connectivity, less nationalism and more opening up,” he said.

Sir Tim agreed saying everyone knows the proceeds of green taxes on the aviation industry under the auspices of funding environmental initiatives just go towards bolstering government treasuries.

MoreGovernments ‘not trusted’ over green aviation taxes [June 19]

Electric plane maker lands first airline order [June 19]

Ryanair claims to be ‘greenest airline’ [June 19]

EasyJet presents future vision of electric aircraft operating short-haul ‘flyways’ [Oct 18]