British Airways boss Willie Walsh has hit out at a central plank of industry efforts to counter environmental criticism.
The BA chief executive said the industry made a “massive mistake” by repeatedly asserting aviation accounts for just 2% of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
This is the airlines’ contribution to worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, although climate scientists now estimate aviation is responsible for nearer 3%.
Walsh told industry leaders at an Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva on Wednesday: “It was a massive mistake to try to play down the impact of aviation – the biggest mistake the industry has made. I do not buy into this 2% – it is not trivial, it is a massive amount.”
He added: “Some of the criticism levelled at our industry is fair. Compared with other industries, we seem to have got away free. The perception that aviation has a free ticket must be addressed. We must be seen to play our part.”
Walsh said agreement on a worldwide emissions trading scheme at the inter-governmental climate conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year was essential.
“There is a real risk to our industry if we are not seen to make progress at Copenhagen,” he said. “We will suffer at the hands of politicians who see us as fair game for taxation.”
The European Union plans to include airlines in a regional emissions trading scheme from 2012. Most carriers are opposed, although BA has supported the move as a step to a global scheme.
In the meantime, Walsh sees little hope of the UK government abandoning air passenger duty on air fares, despite industry lobbying. ABTA repeated its call for
APD to be scrapped last week following the Dutch government‘s removal of its aviation tax. But Walsh said: “There is no groundswell of public opposition to APD. There should be, but that is the reality.”
APD will increase from November, with a four-tier system of charges levied on the length of flights leading to a substantial rise in long-haul fares.
Walsh warned that progress on reducing airline emissions would not be easy and called for competition to be put to one side on the issue.
“We have to be realistic – the industry faces its greatest-ever crisis,” he said. “I accept there is a tendency to compete on the environment, but let’s not do that.”