Carbon goals ‘pose threat to aviation’s affordability’

Pressure on airlines to decarbonise must “not damage our industry”, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr told European policymakers in Brussels as Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary claimed EU emissions-reduction plans “may have to be pushed back”.

Speaking at an Airlines for Europe (A4E) summit last week, Spohr said: “We all believe Europe can serve as a model [for decarbonisation] with its Fit for 55 programme.” But he added: “There is a huge ‘but’. To do it in balance is key, reducing the impact on the environment while maintaining connectivity, maintaining jobs [and] maintaining our competitiveness with the rest of the world.”

He insisted: “The cost of travel has to remain affordable. Whatever we do must not damage our industry so that we no longer connect ourselves and others do it.”

The EU set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 in a ‘Fit for 55’ package of proposals adopted in July 2021. These include phasing out free allowances for carriers in the EU Emissions Trading System and requiring fuel suppliers to blend increasing levels of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) in jet fuel at EU airports, including synthetic low‑carbon fuels (e-fuels).

Spohr suggested aviation suffers “visibility out of proportion” to its impact on global warming, arguing: “Shipping has more or less the same emissions and no one talks about it. Shipping is probably doing less to reduce emissions, and if you look at who makes the greatest profits now, it’s shipping. The CO2 impact of this industry is coming down per passenger because of the industry’s efforts. Thousands of engineers are working to find solutions.”

Luis Gallego, chief executive of British Airways and Iberia parent IAG, agreed saying: “We have a focus on airlines, but airlines are doing everything. We are investing in new aircraft. We are saying ‘yes’ to emissions trading, we are saying ‘yes’ to sustainable aviation fuels, though we don’t have SAF.”

O’Leary said: “Ryanair is investing €20 billion in new technology. As an industry we’re making huge investments to fly more sustainably.”

But he added: “We face a cost challenge. Some of the implementation of Fit for 55 may have to be pushed back a few years. I don’t think some of our customers are going to be able to pay fuel taxes.”

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