Environment Enacting policies that make a difference


Like all industrial sectors, air travel must be environmentally sustainable. With demand for air transport set to double over the next 20 years, pressure on the industry to minimize its environmental footprint will only intensify.

Air Transport, the “business of freedom,” has made the world a better place by heightening its accessibility for ever-more travelers and shippers. To ensure that the opportunities made possible by aviation continue to be available, the industry must be committed to sustainable growth. The rise in anti-aviation media coverage and grassroots nongovernmental organization (NGO) activity in 2018 made this abundantly clear.

Fortunately, the industry has in place a robust strategy that ensures its continued delivery of benefits worldwide. That strategy enables increasing numbers of people to enjoy the social and economic benefits of air connectivity.

Aviation marked the 10th anniversary of its sustainability strategy in 2018. A core element of the strategy is the push for progress on operational, technical, and infrastructure improvements and the promotion of ICAO’s global standard Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The strategy’s aim is to deliver on industry commitments to stabilize net emissions by 2020, and to a net 50% cut in 2005 carbon emissions by 2050.

Developments in 2018

Fulfilling the latter commitment will be difficult, but there is pressure for the industry to attain even this tough target. The industry, therefore, will need to explore all environmental mitigation possibilities. To this purpose, the widespread employment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which also marked its 10th anniversary in 2018, is crucial. The aim is for one billion passengers to travel on flights powered by a mix of jet fuel and SAF by 2025.

Beyond carbon reduction, other sustainability efforts are equally vital. Noise mitigation and waste management have long been industry priorities. Airlines are also committed to raising awareness of and preventing the illegal trafficking of animals and plants.

Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation

CORSIA addresses any increase in CO2 emissions from international aviation above 2020 levels. It is an economic measure that completes the industry’s long-standing, four-pillar sustainability strategy alongside operational, technical, and infrastructure improvements.

It is forecast that CORSIA will mitigate around 2.5 billion metric tons of CO2 and generate over $40 billion in climate finance between 2021 and 2035. Airlines asked for its implementation and will pay the bill.

As of 1 January 2019, all carriers are required to report their CO2 emissions on an annual basis, although only flights between volunteering countries are subject to offsetting requirements in the initial stages of the scheme. By the end of March 2019, 79 ICAO member nations had volunteered to apply CORSIA.

To assist with CORSIA monitoring, reporting, and verification requirements, IATA developed the online reporting system FRED+. FRED+ facilitates the task of preparing emission reports, chiefly by pairing airline operators directly with their national authorities for the safe and secure transmission of emissions data. Coinciding with the start of the CORSIA baseline period, FRED+ went live on 1 January 2019 with all its core system functionalities fully implemented and tested.

CORSIA provides global standards for offsetting that have won the support of the entire industry and many national governments. There are, however, exceptions that seek to deviate from the agreed international standards for CORSIA and to use carbon pricing to justify levies on air transport. The European Union (EU) and China, for example, have adopted unilateral rules for monitoring and reporting emissions, and there are proposals to reintroduce environmental ticket taxes in the Netherlands and Sweden.

Such decisions could be perceived as a disavowal of CORSIA as the agreed, multilateral approach on aviation climate action. This is particularly disconcerting given that the governments behind such decisions were instrumental in reaching an agreement on CORSIA at the 39th ICAO Assembly—an agreement that recognizes CORSIA as the market-based measure for emissions from international aviation.

Sustainable aviation fuels

The 10th anniversary of the first airline flight using a blend of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) occurred in 2018. In that decade, over 165,000 flights have flown with a SAF blend. SAF are sourced from a variety of renewable or recycled feedstocks and can deliver up to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions over the complete life cycle of the fuel.

The aviation industry is increasing its efforts to encourage the development and use of SAF. By the end of 2018, more than 40 airlines had used SAF. Other significant milestones in the production and uptake of SAF in 2018 included

  • the first flight using jet fuel derived from alcohol by Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech; 
  • the introduction of SAF into the hydrant system at Brisbane Airport, using the isobutanol to jet fuel pathway produced by Gevo;
  • major new SAF investments, the two most notable being more than $600 million by Fulcrum BioEnergy for a production facility in the United States and over $1 billion by Neste to substantially increase the SAF potential of its Singapore refinery; and
  • a $9 million commitment from Japan Airlines to invest with municipal waste to jet fuel producer Fulcrum BioEnergy.

The main challenge for SAF usage is to ensure enough volume is produced to achieve a competitive end-user price. IATA continually engages with governments to develop policy frameworks that reduce SAF production risks and facilitate access to funding for SAF production. User-friendly SAF accounting methods; a global, mutual recognition of sustainability standards; and the recognition of SAF within the ICAO CORSIA scheme are equally important policy enablers.

In 2018, there were several examples of policy improvements regarding SAF. The UK’s Department for Transport allowed aviation to participate in ground transport incentives. The EU, meanwhile, agreed to apply an enhanced incentive for aviation compared with ground transport under its Renewable Energy Directive II, beginning in 2020.

Additionally, IATA remained at the front of sustainability developments at ICAO. IATA also represents the industry in two leading sustainability organizations: the Round Table on Sustainable Biomaterials and International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC).

The aviation industry’s three emission goals

I mp r o ving fuel efficiency an a v e r age of 1.5% annually to 2020
Capping net emissions through carbon neutral growth from 2020 (CNG2020)
Cutting net carbon emissions in half by 2050 compared with 2005

Illegal wildlife trade

The trade in endangered animals and plants is the fourth-largest illegal trade after drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. Although the responsibility for prosecuting traffickers lies with governments and their customs, border, and wildlife protection agencies, the aviation industry is committed to playing its part in raising the awareness of and in preventing the appalling trade in wildlife.

Helping the industry in this regard is the Joint Passenger Services Conference (JPSC). In 2018, the JPSC adopted a recommended practice (RP) on the carriage of prohibited wildlife in baggage. Guidance on the safe handling of escaped animals in the cabin, was also included in the Cabin Safety Best Practice Guide.

During 2018, a further 15 airlines signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration. That initiative from the United for Wildlife (UfW) foundation  set up by the Royal Foundation includes a transport task force. To date, some 60 airlines and other aviation stakeholders have joined IATA in signing the declaration.

IATA’s involvement in the ROUTES Partnership, continued in 2018 with a variety of activities related to combating the trade in wildlife. Among them was the integration of an independent certification into the IATA Environmental Assessment; the development of a reporting application for aviation staff; the application of strengthened protocols, standards, and procedures; and the raising of awareness of this issue through, for example, passenger-focused video and an e-learning module and posters for baggage handlers.

2021 - 2035
and generate over $40 bn in climate finance

Waste and environmental management

Increasingly, attention is being drawn to better waste management by business sectors globally. Plastic waste in the oceans has become an issue of particular concern. Airlines seek to improve their rates of recycling and to overall reduce waste, but they are prevented in many cases by highly restrictive laws and regulations regarding the separation and removal of waste that has any organic contamination. Such waste is usually burnt or sent to deep landfill. For the same reasons, the substitution of plastic utensils with alternative materials does not improve their recycling rate.

Changes to international laws and regulations are needed to help airlines reduce and deal with their onboard waste. IATA is working to establish best practice procedures. It is also undertaking to advocate with authorities worldwide for the relaxation of regulations and laws where appropriate to improve airlines’ waste reduction and recycling.

IATA Environmental Assessment

IATA leads the application of the ISO 14001 international standard for environmental management systems to the airline sector through the IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA). IEnvA improves airlines’ environmental performance by helping them implement best practice and comply with domestic and international standards and obligations.

As of 1 March 2019, 18 airlines have achieved IEnvA Stage 1 certification and another 5 are preparing for Stage 1 assessment. A single airline is in preparation for IEnvA Stage 2 assessment and, once certified, will join the existing 6 IEnvA Stage 2 airlines.