Neil Garwood reflects on the balance between aviation and climate change

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Neil Garwood reflects on the balance between aviation and climate change

Following the announcement by the government today (12 June 2019) of plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK to almost zero by 2050, Southampton Airport Managing Director Neil Garwood reflects on the balance between climate change and the aviation industry.

“These are interesting times. While politicians squabble over our relationship with the EU, and the norms of global trade appear under threat from a growing US-China trade war, the emerging demands for action on climate change can be heard across the nation. And these demands are loud and compelling: we hear that an emergency is unfolding and for the good of future generations we must act now.

“But how should we act? The growth of global carbon emissions has reflected the growth of our economies. The aviation sector, responsible for two per cent of worldwide human-induced emissions, comes in for particular focus.

“This is a sector that provides connectivity and trade; that enables prosperity through the transfer of information, people and skills from one corner of the globe to another; that enables economies to grow and invest in the jobs and innovations that will solve our current and future problems. Yet it relies on the continued use of fossil fuels until new technologies enter the mainstream. Climate activists tell us that aviation needs to do more now to curb the worsening environmental situation. Some say we should even stop flying altogether.

“So what should we do? How can we balance the challenges of climate change with the benefits of global connectivity brought about by aviation? How can we quantify the value of the choices we make today with the impact of those choices in the years ahead? How will our progress with tackling climate change be affected if we hinder a sector that facilitates economic growth and prosperity?

“These are big questions and we don’t have all the answers. But we do know that aviation has brought the world within reach.

“Here in Hampshire we have world-leading companies seeking out the technological advances that may solve our problems. These companies need a thriving and connected community to generate the necessary development and investment. With a regional airport in Southampton, that connectivity is assured – and as the airport grows in the future the opportunity for the region to prosper further grows with it. No-one wishes to see this economic potential drip through our fingers, and with a sustainable and responsible growth plan we can ensure that our airport plays its part.

“In the meantime the aviation industry needs to continue to adapt and introduce the technological developments that will further reduce carbon emissions. Significant progress has already been achieved: passenger growth is now disconnected from an equivalent growth in emissions as new aircraft enter operation with far improved environmental characteristics than the ones they replace; air traffic control procedures now focus on limiting fuel burn for aircraft on approach to airports; and the day is coming when biofuels and battery technology will revolutionise air travel to still greater degrees. Air travel is finely balanced between the needs of the present and the opportunities of the future.

“Maybe one day we will all stop flying. But right now the world needs thriving industries that create jobs and connect people, ideas and investment. Aviation can help solve the challenges we see before us, and we must be careful not to limit its potential to do just that.”