It’s Time Video Killed Business Class Travel

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The airline industry still dreaming about phoney low-carbon fuels. Instead it should seize the opportunity of video-conferencing to produce real change, says Simon Perry

Video conferencing is now a strong competitor to the airline industry. That’s not the usual puff from the video-conferencing industry – it’s from the top of the airline world.

The growing promise of video conferencing was noted – in passing – by Giovanni Bisignani, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) director general and CEO, in a speech entitled “State of the Air Transport Industry” at the IATA annual general meeting and World Air Transport Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in June. It was reported in newspapers and the aviation industry trade press.

That videoconferencing’s share of the global meeting-time pie has become large enough to garner IATA’s attention is interesting enough, but what is more interesting still is what the remark means in light of the airline industry’s overall approach to environmental sustainability.

IATA: growth, growth growth

But first, some context: . The IATA, representative of the entire airline industry, is totally committed to perpetual growth in carrying capacity as the basis for its future business strategy, both in the short and long term.

The industry’s airlines have already placed orders for approximately 4,000 new aircraft that are scheduled for delivery over the next three years. According to IATA, that number represents a renewal of 17 percent of the existing commercial fleet. Making that investment, decided upon in better economic times, pay for itself in the here and now will require highly effective operational efficiencies, cost cutting, and as much passenger growth as can be squeezed from the market.

Meanwhile, IATA has set itself goals for reducing the airline industry’s emissions that it calls more ambitious than that of any other industry — and with a strategy better executed through a unique level of industry-sector coordination cuts. Just prior to the Kuala Lumpur speech the IATA board reached the decision that, by 2020, the airline industry will achieve what they term carbon neutral growth, on the path to some then future point of net CO2 reductions.

What that means in practice is that the industry aims to somehow decouple an increase in emissions from the desire to grow passenger numbers. In explaining this decoupling, the IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) provide the following illustrative schematic: