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4 OCTOBER 2021
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Much respected aviation consultant, and regular contributor to BTN, John Strickland focusses on the IATA AGM, one of the most critical in its 77 years, made even more difficult for prospective attendees by the attitude of the US Administration. Held one month later and all could have attended. John Strickland is Director of JLS Consulting.
BTN would like to thank Martha Sheridan, President & CEO, Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau for the welcoming ON TOUR published in this week’s BTN.
This year’s IATA AGM in Boston marks the first time in over 18 months for airline industry leadership to meet together in significant numbers. It is also the first AGM to be overseen by new Director General, Willie Walsh.
The meeting takes place as some bright signs emerge with the imminent reopening up of the US and Australia to important international markets, such as Europe.
There will be an atmosphere of euphoria in being able to meet colleagues face to face but the urgency to work on pressing priorities at this time of extreme challenge is only too apparent.
The ongoing covid crisis and its wide ranging impact on the industry will occupy centre stage and inevitably represents the preoccupation for IATA. However, jostling for attention is the equally pressing topic of aviation and the environment.
The pandemic is the worst and most prolonged crisis that the airline industry has ever faced and its impact has been compounded by the erratic, uncoordinated and unpredictable responses of governments the world over. This is something which Walsh has already tackled head on in speeches and interviews and it will continue to command attention as airlines try and set course on the long road to normality.
The AGM will see an inevitable focus on the financial health of IATA’s members. Some have seen government investment and bailouts, bringing challenges of political interference and affecting their commercial freedoms. Others have been able to turn to shareholders and the markets for funding while still more are simply struggling to survive.
Against the shifting list of quarantines and myriad of differing vaccine and testing requirements, IATA has pushed not only for a consistent approach but for rapid advances in digital technology when it comes to information and documentation requirements for travellers. A lot has been achieved already but the effort must continue, it’s the only way to deliver reliable and confident future air travel with or without a pandemic.
With numerous highly visual climate emergencies evident this year and the upcoming COP26 meeting in November, aviation remains very much in the spotlight for its contribution to the problem.
Walsh is only too aware of this. Covid does not provide an excuse for escaping the issue. He is clear that the industry must acknowledge its contribution but expects other partners in the supply chain to play their part in making urgent progress towards net zero emissions. It is notable that leadership from both Airbus and Boeing will actively participate in the AGM to debate solutions to the challenge.
There has already been good progress in introducing more efficient aircraft and engines, indeed the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to this. However, there is much more to do. Improvements in air traffic management, production of sustainable aviation fuels at scale and research into new power sources such as hydrogen and electricity are required.
The industry cannot resource the scale of investment required on its own, least of all now. Once more governments have a pivotal role to play. Taxing aviation is not the solution, there is a need for more carrot and less stick. Walsh has never been afraid to tackle sensitive issues head on, to be direct and push against barriers. He needs to drive IATA in its efforts to change the dynamic with the world’s political leaders in order to achieve greater collaboration and financial commitment. We can expect some clear messages on this.
The timing of this AGM presents an opportunity for Walsh to show its members what his leadership of IATA can deliver, whilst simultaneously galvanising them to action to protect the very future of the airline business. I will be watching with great interest.
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