United Airlines chief praises private sector input in Cop26

Private sector involvement in the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow was a positive sign that answers are being sought, according to United Airlines’ chief executive Scott Kirby.

Speaking in a pre-recorded session at the World Aviation Festival, Kirby said the aviation sector “is going to have get serious about carbon capture and sequestration”.

“It was nice to have the corporate world there [at Cop26] for the first time instead of just governments and NGOs,” he said. “That made it feel a lot more real.

“It’s not as easy as simple throwaway answers, but there is a real serious desire from a broad range of people to deal with the problem instead of fighting a rear-guard action.

“I was encouraged by the volume of public private partnerships that were there and that were serious.”

Kirby said carbon capture and sequestration was a technology “in the tool box” that more people are thinking about.

He said this was the only technology capable of getting carbon industries down to net zero emissions.

“It’s real and it’s not gameable as some offset programmes are,” Kirby said. “People are talking about it as a real solution.”

United Airlines is partnering with petroleum company Occidental that is developing technology capable of stripping carbon from the atmosphere.

Kirby said it will be years before the technology is economically viable and will need government support although modest costs will have to passed on to the consumer.

“Some industries that cannot decarbonise are going to have to higher prices but that’s how it should be.

“If you are emitting emissions and that’s going to have an effect on society that cost should be passed on to the public. It is going to be modest.”

Speaking before the emergence of the omicron Covid variant and the reimposition of travel restrictions, Kirby said Delta was seeing strong demand particularly domestically.

He said over the coming holiday period the carrier was on course to set post-Covid records for passenger numbers and it was back to 100% capacity.

Labour shortages in the US have not directly impacted the carrier, but could cause issues at airports as volumes return. “You may want to show up early for your flight,” Kirby said.

United Airlines saw healthy demand on the north Atlantic routes after they reopened on November 8 although business travel remained supressed.

However, Kirby predicted corporate travel will fully recover by 2023 and there will be a significant increase in the first quarter of 2022 as offices reopen.

Small and medium sized firms are returning quicker to travel while many larger corporates located om the east and west coasts are taking a more cautious approach.

“We are in a world of learning to live with Covid and it would not be surprising if there was some near term set back.

“We expected there would be ups and downs. As a society we are learning to live with what is going to be an endemic disease.”

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