Airline group: We're cutting carbon more than people know

The head of the world’s largest association of airlines says it needs to better explain commitments that it made years ago to reduce carbon emissions, not make new pledges collectively

Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said perhaps “arrogance or blindness” led his group to focus on explaining its efforts to industry insiders, not the general public.

“What we have seen is that nobody is aware of our program,” he said in an interview at IATA headquarters in Geneva. “It's our fault, probably.”

The association made three big commitments on climate action since 2008. It pledged to improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% per year between 2009 and 2020 - and IATA actually achieved 2.3%, de Juniac said. It’s pledging carbon-neutral growth starting next year. And it’s committed to cut emissions to half of the level in 2005 by 2050.

EasyJet, which is not an IATA member, has announced carbon offsets for all its domestic and international flights. IATA members British Airways and Qantas have made similar commitments, de Juniac said.

He said airlines individually should decide whether to follow suit.

“What we don't want by any means is to make any commitments that we know in advance we are not able or that we are not comfortable (about), or not realistically ... able to stick to,” he said. “We are not liars ... We are not illusionists.”

The comments came at a presentation at which IATA said it projected the global airline industry will reap net profit of $29.3 billion in 2020. That is up from $25.9 billion expected this year, which has been marred by a US-China trade war and other international tensions that have dented economic growth.

IATA says the industry appears on track toward an 11th straight year of profits by the end of next year.