“We can only grow if Aviation is truly sustainable in an environmental and also social way”

Avión sobrevolando una montaña nevada

Sepla’s Technical Department interviews Robert Brons, chairman of IFALPA’s Climate Change Working Group and Airbus A330 commander at KLM.

Q.- What would be the role of the pilot in getting green ? Further to for example and advancing Airbus’s green operating procedures,etc 

A.- It starts with the common perception of each pilot that we can make a difference during the operation. In making sensible choices on the fuel uptake, in being critical on the flight plan, in reporting on time at the gate for timely boarding of passengers, up to trying to accomplish a continuous climb, optimum cruising altitudes, continuous descents etc. All these aspects sum up to considerable gains.

We have many options to save fuel but at the same time have a keen eye on safety. Safety is first, and our role is to integrate the environmental needs into a safe flight.

Collectively, within Sepla, ECA and IFALPA, we can (and even must) offer our operational expertise to States, ICAO and other stakeholders in getting green. I consider our (pilot, SEPLA, IFALPA) point of view essential in any improvement. Without the operational and holistic “touch” of the pilot, change may prove to be counter-effective or at least not “operation-proof”.

Q.- Do we believe in sustainable growth as a pilot collective? How so?

A.- Yes, we do, but it is definitely a huge assignment. Aviation brings in many positive rewards for society, but it is our firm believe that we can only grow if it is truly sustainable in an environmental and also social way.

This is the paradigm shift, growth is not self-evident. We have to earn this growth by ensuring through new equipage, new operational procedures, new green energy sources and offsets, a carbon-free future. With a pace in line with Paris.

We will need a firm strategy from States and ICAO, to secure this roadmap, to improve collaboration and promote sustainable investments.

Q.- Given there is not enough green sustainable electricity to produce SAF ( Sustainable Aviation Fuel) and alternative fuels What can governments and the private sector do now better to make the transition to green sustainable solutions to comply with Fit for 55 and further carbon reductions

A.- Investments and a clear roadmap together with the stakeholders including the energy needs and road to zero. And we should not bet on one horse, as the silver bullit to fuel the transition. We need all sources of green energy, not only to fuel aviation, but also road transport and marine traffic. Solar, wind, water, nuclear as energy sources. Hydrogen and improved electric storage. Massive investments in SAF employment.

No country or operator can do it alone. So mutual commitments from all players are needed. To secure these investments, commitments from States, operators and airports are needed.

Of course, PtL fuels looks good for the future as it can be truly net carbon zero, but it requires a lot of green energy (which is currently sparsely available) and too expensive (and should therefore be promoted, subsidized, and excluded from offsetting).

Q.- What can airlines do better to avoid being taken to court for greenwashing by consumer groups? 

A.- Be transparent in their efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and endorse a truly sustainable and reliable CORSIA offset market. Offsets are only truly acceptable on the basis of three requirements:  they comply with the UN Sustainable development goals, and are additional and permanent.

Q.- Any thoughts or reflections on economic fuel tankering and sustainability?

A.- This starts with the pilot and his/her responsibility and sustainable awareness as well. Tankering is per definition wasting fuel and emitting extra carbon for money.  I would not appreciate a total ban on tankering as this will most likely interfere with the pilot’s discretion to take additional fuel for safety or operational reasons (short turn arounds, fuel scarcity). If fuel costs will rise significantly (as they will do through taxes, carbon offsetting and SAF uplifts) the financial drive for tankering will disappear as you will increase the fuel burn.

Q.- What do you say to the climate change deniers in the pilot community who say theres global cooling? Or those pilots that say we are reacting too late, we have already passed the point of no return, the tipping point.

A.- We have the IPCC for that, an amazing amount of scientific work on climate change, and all pointing to the same conclusions (impacts on climate change, on biodiversity, on ecosystems, on socio-economics, on food supplies, on infrastructure) local on need to intervene.

It’s not too late, however climate change is already happening at a large scale. Any further delay will have a massive impact on the outcome. And we need to adapt to the changing climate. Adaptation is essential, also for the aviation industry. We will encounter higher temperatures in Europe, more turbulence across the NATS, increased intensity of thunderstorms at many airports. ICAO has conducted an assessment of the impacts and risks and the potential adaptation strategies for aviation (with the help of IFALPA).

Q.- What can SEPLA do in terms of communicating with governments and industry so that more  sustainable research and development is done, as it is such a huge task?

  1. Point out that also aviation must adopt the Paris roadmap through ICAO for a future aviation sector. Only 2-3% of carbon dioxide (and 3-4% of the global warming effect) is coming from aviation, but this will rise significantly as other sectors cut drastically their emissions.
  2. Communicate to the States to embrace the widely acknowledged roadmap to improve on all pillars: technology, operations, ATM infrastructure and SAF implementation and endorse stringent CORSIA caps.
  3. Indicate to the States that major investments are needed to ensure future availability of green energy.
  4. To re-invest the extra kerosine tax and ETS-income into greening aviation.
  5. Embrace an adaptation plan.
  6. And collaborate with other States (within EU and ICAO) and stakeholders.

Q.- As there is a lot of  attention for the environmental footprint of aviation at the moment Pilots dont seem to be interested enough in sustainable aviation, how can we get them more involved ?

A.- Foremost, pilots are concerned on safety and economics. But we need to reach out more to the pilots in all regions, understand their worries and indicate that aviation has no future if it is not environmentally (and socially) sustainable. Through working shops, or briefing leaflets.

From IFALPA you may expect a clear signal, to the pilots, to the member associations, to  ICAO and to society. We must indicate that we can make the difference today. ICAO has assembled a document for instance with all available operational opportunities the pilot can apply as of today to reduce carbon emissions; engine-out taxi, use of external power, continuous climbs/descents, flight path optimalisation, CDM at airports.