“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.
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.
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.
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.