7 FEBRUARY 2022
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Johan Lundgren joined easyJet as CEO in November 2017 having previously served as Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Executive for mainstream markets at the European tour operator TUI. Lundgren began his career with Swedish travel group Fritidsresor, which was eventually acquired by TUI Travel.
As all airlines emerge from the pandemic – undoubtedly the worst crisis the industry has ever had to face – many lessons have been learned and progress has certainly been made in many areas. At easyJet for example, many parts of the business have been transformed during the pandemic. We have optimised our network with much more flexibility, have found sustainable cost savings while also step-changing ancillary revenue. And crucially, not only is this transformation delivering for us now, but it will continue to in the future.
And with the welcome removal of restrictions, the industry can finally get back to what we do best – reconnecting our customers with their families, taking them on much-needed holidays and helping businesses succeed and expand.
We always said it would be a year of two halves with a tough winter, some bumps along the road heading towards a strong summer. easyJet has been prepared for periods of uncertainty like we’ve seen with Omicron and have the financial strength to manage any further Covid related travel disruptions.
So while this winter remains tough I see many reasons for optimism – governments are rolling back their restrictions for the vaccinated which means high vaccination rates coupled with the Covid protection measures we already have in place alongside flexible policies means that customers are also more confident in their ability to travel. A recent survey we did showed that UK consumers plan to spend more money on holidays this year than ever before, to make up for the past two years of restricted travel and two thirds see a holiday abroad this year as their main priority.
We still see a strong turnaround with huge pent-up demand for summer and so we are still planning to return to pre-pandemic levels of flying this summer – much sooner than many predicted.
But while I have much optimism about what is in store for the coming months, I also recognise that there is the crucial and long-standing issue of sustainability which the industry needs to tackle.
And while it may not seem as immediate as the issues we have been dealing with throughout the past two years, it is arguably the industry’s biggest challenge yet. Conversely though, if tackled effectively, it could further strengthen this vibrant industry.
One thing is for sure – aviation needs to do more to tackle climate change. Carbon emissions from air travel contribute to climate change and we have a responsibility to minimise the impact of our flights. At easyJet, we do this in two ways, by working tirelessly to minimise carbon emissions today, including offsetting all the fuel from our flights on behalf of our customers as well as pursuing zero carbon emission solutions for the future.
We believe that aviation needs to make radical changes and championing the development of a carbon-free aircraft to decarbonise aviation has long been a focus for easyJet. We are working with partners across the industry, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and Wright Electric, to accelerate the development of zero carbon emission technologies and the required infrastructure and are optimistic that we could begin flying customers on carbon-free planes from the mid-2030s.
But the whole industry has to play its part if we are to be successful in preserving the benefits of aviation which are unparalleled in terms of connecting people, reuniting friends and family, enabling people to experience different cultures and also providing for economic prosperity – especially following the global pandemic. People have a choice in how they travel, and many more people are now thinking about the potential impact of different types of transport. If people choose to fly, we want to be one of the best choices they can make.
The industry simply cannot achieve these changes alone – the role of governments is essential.
Governments need to support the development of hydrogen supply and infrastructure at airports alongside investments into renewable energy to support the creation of green hydrogen for aviation. They need to provide financial incentives to support the development and scaling up of zero carbon emission technology. This is why funds raised through aviation taxes should be re-invested in the aviation sector, into the R&D that is required for carbon-free technology. And in the meantime, offsets should be formally recognised – as an interim step until new technologies are available at scale – this is something all carriers can start doing today.
And airlines choosing to become early adopters of the new technology should be incentivised through reduced airspace and airport charges and also be provided with tax exemptions if they are operating carbon-free aircraft and be prioritised for airport slots.
And the improvement of Air Traffic Management needs to be done now as it would significantly reduce emissions right now.
Finally, we need all carriers to take part in decarbonisation, not just those flying short-haul or those flying intra-EEA. This means including long-haul flights in policies such as the Emissions Trading System (ETS), the EU's proposed fuel tax, and any sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandates. We need to have equal treatment, and make sure we all play our part in reducing aviation’s impact, especially the long-haul flights responsible for most of the emissions.
Governments in Europe are pushing hydrogen production like never before. In 2020, the European Commission adopted a hydrogen strategy for a climate neutral Europe, highlighting the essential role of hydrogen in decarbonizing. Many countries, such as France and Germany are pushing ahead with their own ambitious national hydrogen strategies.
The UK's Hydrogen Strategy published August 2021 aims to achieve 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030, however the UK target is low by comparison to other European governments. So, we need to see more ambition from the UK government, particularly concerning green hydrogen production and a whole new ecosystem to enable hydrogen aviation – this will be the biggest change in aviation since the Wright Brothers.
But one thing that I am certain of is that this industry, so often buffeted by external forces outside of our control, is truly resilient. It can meet these challenges, just as it has managed through the extraordinary pressures of the pandemic, and that's because it's powered by passionate people who can make this happen.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Nick West, United Kingdom
A really good piece particularly the comment on about a lack of ambition on green hydrogen production where there is great potential but also vast investment required.
David Starkie, United Kingdom
Carbon-free planes?! Carbon fibre goes into the manufacture of the modern aircraft. Not my area but does/cannot this carbon be extracted from the atmosphere for manufacturing purposes?
Jill Smith, St Albans
I for one will be pleased to get on a easyJet flight again. It’s been a long time. And I agree with his comments about climate change. Having now looked at the site can you pay direct for Speedy Boarding or has the upfront arrangement changed?
Jason Read, Crawley
A very thoughtful piece. Better air traffic management is the easy way forward to cut emissions, and at the same time, improve the airlines bottom line. It should be highlighted more.
Barry Graham, United States
I wonder how long it will take before the world will wake up to the fact that climate change and carbon emissions are not interrelated.