“New technologies call for strong partnerships”

IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac on new technologies, politics in civil aviation and the return of glamour to flying

05.2017 | Text: Andreas Spaeth

Andreas Spaeth has been traveling the world as a freelance aviation journalist for over 25 years, visiting and writing about airlines and airports. He is frequently invited to appear on radio and TV programs.

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Mr. de Juniac, IATA has supported the fuel-less flight of Solar Impulse around the world. What does that tell us about the potential of aviation?

Alexandre de Juniac: It gives us several messages. First of all, it tells us that aviation is at the cutting edge of inno­vation. Historically that always has been the case. We are paving the way for clean energy in trans­por­tation, for pre­serving our planet by using no-fuel energy. Secondly, it represents a symbol of hope that mankind can do things better. Thirdly, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have demon­strated that te­nac­ity is abso­lutely key when pursuing an idea – or a dream. Remember: they started this project over twelve years ago.

What lessons do you extract from this for the airline industry?

de Juniac: The project Solar Impulse shows how we in this industry must be inno­vative, par­ticu­larly to protect the environ­ment and reduce CO2 emissions. It shows that this goal is achiev­able and we will do it. It makes us optimistic that what we are doing for the environ­ment within IATA and in co­opera­tion with ICAO will be suc­cess­ful. That’s very important because it is an enormous program that we have, based on commit­ments of all the stake­holders in the industry. We recognize that translating this achieve­ment into solar-powered or even all-electric com­mer­cial transports is a chal­lenge on a wholly different scale. But Solar Impulse shows that his industry is serious; when we make commit­ments and set targets, we stick to them.

“We need a very strong partnership with airframe and engine manufacturers and system providers, to be able to demonstrate that these new technologies can work effectively in new aircraft.”

Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of International Air Transport Association (IATA)

What kind of partners do the passenger airlines need in order to achieve the environmental goals IATA has set out?

de Juniac: We need a very strong partner­ship with air­frame and engine manu­facturers and system pro­viders, to be able to demon­strate that these new tech­nol­ogies can work effec­tively in new aircraft. We need strong partner­ships with air­ports, govern­ments and air navigation service providers to show that we are able to manage the sky and the ground properly. And all that needs to be in accord­ance with our objective to reduce CO2 emis­sions, for example, by having more direct trajec­tories and more direct ap­proaches, or doing ‘green taxiing’ on the tarmac.

Can relationships between aircraft operators, the airlines, and the engine manufacturers be improved?

de Juniac: These relation­ships are very good already, it’s a multilateral partnership. You buy an air­craft and engine to last at least 20 years, you refurbish an air­craft two or three times during its life­time, so you need a long-standing relation­ship including tech­nical support and upgrading. In this is an industry you can’t work without close re­la­tions between the suppliers and the airlines.

How can the engine manufacturers contribute to achieve IATA’s climate goals, what do you need from them?

de Juniac: We are asking for a lot. Today’s engines are highly fuel effi­cient and remark­ably reliable. Yet we need them to be even more effi­cient and reliable in the future to help us achieve our CO2 goals, with greater use of recyclable techno­logy. Noise is also a consid­eration. We need to continue to reduce noise levels. Of course there are diffi­cult environ­mental trade-offs to consider. As I said, this is an inno­vative industry, and I’m confident that these chal­lenges will be addressed.

What are your priorities in your new job heading IATA, what are currently the biggest challenges for passenger aviation?

de Juniac: I think we have three big challenges ahead of us. First of all, to main­tain and improve our eco­nomic and financial health. Second, we have big se­cu­rity issues. And the third area is infra­structure. If we want to support the growth in demand for our product, we must have effi­cient and afford­able infra­structure with suffi­cient capacity.

That aviation is a growth industry is a given, but apparently infrastructure is not growing at the same rate. What can you do to improve this?

de Juniac: We have to repeat this message to govern­ments, to develop a long-term plan for aviation infra­structure to follow and cope with growth. We know that improving infra­structure means long-term planning. On top of that, there is some resist­ance from various sides, especially if you want to build a new air­port or new runways.

Is it right that aviation still has no priority for many governments?

de Juniac: Aviation should be a top priority for any govern­ment. Some countries have decided to put aviation at the core of their national strategy, such as some of the Gulf states or Singapore, South Korea and the Netherlands. Unfortunately only a small pro­por­tion of states make aviation a priority. We urge other govern­ments to work out a kind of aviation strategy and implement it. Especially as long-term planning is required here, you must have a strategic vision for the next ten or even twenty years. Other­wise it’s a nightmare. How is it possible there are so many problems with the new air­port in Berlin? Why have we been waiting for the third runway at London-Heathrow now for 70 years? Or 35 years for a quick rail access from Charles de Gaulle airport to the center of Paris? We have to convince govern­ments that aviation is a key element for pros­perity. We are the business of freedom, one that means jobs, GDP growth, hap­pi­ness and optimism.

Do you think that in ten years’ time, the same issues as today will still be on IATA’s agenda?

de Juniac: Some items will be similar. Probably the infra­structure constraints will not be solved totally. With the environ­mental agenda, I am optimistic we will have made a lot of progress. Inno­vation will always be on top of our agenda.

IATA has a very diverse membership, from small island carriers to huge airline groups. Is it difficult to find a common path for all of these?

de Juniac: No, it’s not. During my time as the CEO of Air France, we created the A4E lobby group, com­bining low cost and legacy airlines. That was con­sid­ered im­pos­sible, because our common inter­ests were supposed to be very limited. But that was totally wrong. The common inter­ests between the two biggest low cost air­lines and three legacy carriers were repre­senting 80 or 90 percent of the subjects we were dealing with. And this is true in the same way for our IATA members. Of course there are spe­cif­ic items for small car­ri­ers in small island nations and others for big legacy car­ri­ers in industrial coun­tries. But the common interests repre­sent more than 60, 70 or even 80 percent of the subjects. That’s the reason why IATA is expanding. This is by DNA a global business.

Besides IATA, the other global aviation body is the United Nations’ ICAO. How do you get along with each other?

de Juniac: We need each other. ICAO is the regu­la­tory, ‘legislative’ body, designing and creating rules that are appli­cable by states. We are the body that provides expertise, solutions and rec­om­men­da­tions to feed these regu­lations and comple­ment them with industry know­ledge and experience. And the last session has been a perfect example of that, when ICAO adopted the carbon-offsetting scheme for aviation.

It’s often said ICAO acts very slowly…

de Juniac: First of all, the aviation sector is not very fast in general. And as any inter­govern­mental organ­ization, ICAO has its rhythm. One of our duties is to push ICAO to act quickly, and to provide them with enough expertise to enable them to act cleverly and efficiently.

But isn’t it also IATA’s task to create common procedures among airlines?

de Juniac: Yes, our job is to design and apply global standards that are recog­nized and appli­cable for all the industry. We are doing that with our ‘ONE order’ ini­tia­tive for ex­ample. That creates one file and set of data for each pas­sen­ger, and not two or five or seven sets of data, as has been the case so far, which is con­fus­ing and might lead to mistakes.

Video: ONE Order Article with video

ONE Order

ONE Order aims to modernize the order management process in the airline industry. To the video

Almost four billion passengers are currently flying in a single year. Is there still any glamour in flying or can you bring it back somehow?

de Juniac: In fact, some glamour is returning to flying. Until the 1970s, flying was mostly dedi­cated to busi­ness travel and a higher-end part of the popu­lation. It was expen­sive, but also fast and com­fort­able. Then the big air­craft like the 747 arrived, flying became a mass trans­portation system, and, in con­junc­tion with de­regu­lation and liber­ali­zation, the comfort level dropped. At the time, the ‘jet set’ image of avia­tion slipped in many places. At the end of the 1990s many air­lines–especially those with longer histories-redis­covered the fact that they needed to treat the high-yield pas­sen­gers accordingly. Since then, invest­ment in high-end products has been enormous. But Economy Class has not been ignored. You often have Wi-Fi there, a high-definition screen, or you can plug in your smart­phone. For those pas­sen­gers looking for a bit more, many air­lines have intro­duced premium economy. And we see what all air­lines have done on the ground. The lounges are a dream now. It’s all much better than it was.

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