Wham. Bam. Flygskam

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte October 16, 2019 11:31

Wham. Bam. Flygskam

Flygskam, the Swedish word for ‘flight shame’, has been one of the new words of 2019. Along with the Twitter hashtag #stayontheground, it is being used by thousands of people vowing to bring a halt to flying. Clearly very few – if any – of these people were using corporate jets. But protests and the rise of environmental politicians mean that their voices are being heard.

More than 1,336 members of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental protest group (pictured above), have been arrested in London in the last week – including 50 who were trying to block London City Airport last week. This included one protestor who glued himself to a commercial aircraft (something that Ryanair is believed to have considered offering for an even lower fare several years ago). Two weeks ago, more than 500,000 people, led by Swedish teenage protestor Greta Thunberg, marched outside the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) forcing it to postpone one day of its 40th General Assembly.

You could start to think that some people do not like your industry.

“The first step is that you have to recognise that aviation is much more in the spotlight than other industries and business aviation is even more of a target as it is seen as the preserve of those who are undeniably wealthy and privileged,” says Clive Jackson, CEO and founder of Alyssum Group and online charter broker Victor (pictured below). “The justification of time saving and personal security will become increasingly lost in a social media backlash that has already started. Celebrities are increasingly vulnerable to those critics who pursue sensational sound bites and the big question for everyone in the industry is: how to get ahead of the issues and set the agenda?”

In July, Victor launched a mandated carbon offset programme on all charter flights booked on the platform working in partnership with a number of what it sees as accredited ‘Gold Standard’ offset providers. This is a major step up from its carbon offset initiative which it pioneered in 2017. That saw a quarter of all its flights carbon offset when those operators uplifted their fuel with Air BP (the energy company is an investor in Alyssum).

Victor has launched a major advertising campaign publicly pledging to offset 200% of the carbon footprint associated with fuel burn on every flight. In its first month the company offset 438 flights totaling 4,000 tonnes of carbon.

“Choosing the right carbon offset partners has been equally challenging as it’s difficult to find partners with the same transparency that we first introduced to our industry when we launched in 2011,” says Jackson. Victor is investing in nature-based projects such as protecting forest in the Zambezi valley. Carbon credits are relatively low cost in comparison to a charter flight, typically accounting for 0.3% the total cost. (So a $120,000 trans-Atlantic charter would cost just $3,600). However, Jackson foresees a time when this will increase by 10 times and believes in the long run this will be necessary as companies and industries come to terms with the necessity to achieve a net carbon footprint.

Victor attracted a lot of attention when it announced its carbon offset programme. Some was positive but a significant part was negative – both from people inside the industry and the general press. “We’ve had a mixed reaction from consumers with some turning away from the brand,” says Jackson. The same happened when singer Elton John said he had offset flights for Prince Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle when they flew on his business jet to see him in Nice.

“It is no pain, no gain. There is no silver bullet for the industry”

 

But Jackson has no regrets. “It is no pain, no gain,” he says. “There is no silver bullet for the industry. We need a mixture of carbon offsetting, sustainable jet fuel, electric aircraft and everything else to make a difference.”

Ironically Thunberg’s protest in Montreal delayed the ICAO environment sessions to the Sunday. When it finally happened there were two big environmental stories from the Assembly. First, 25 countries – led by China – voted against ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Some 92 approved it, but few expected it to even come to a vote let alone see significant opposition. The CORSIA scheme only affects a few operators with large fleets of large jets, but it had been seen as a key part of the airline industry meeting carbon targets.

On a more positive note, ICAO delegations agreed to ask their governments to support the production and distribution of Sustainable Aviation Fuels. This is not just talk, but a meaningful victory for the Sustainable Aircraft Fuel Commission of EBAA, GAMA (led by Bombardier’s David Coleal who is speaking on this at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas, IBAC, NATA and NBAA). The coalition has already demonstrated that these fuels can be dropped in or blended with traditional jet fuel and now the industry needs more supply (it is readily available at less than a dozen airports today).

The risks are real. One of Scandinavia’s largest business aviation companies says that it is now having real issues hiring graduates, because they do not want to work in a polluting industry. If governments can ban plastic straws, they can also stop business jets from flying into airports.

Jackson thinks everyone in the industry needs to recognise the problem and start solving it: “As an industry we need to start taking action now and get on the front foot. I welcome the pro-active engagement of the associations as we look at new ways to raise awareness of this issue across the aviation industry. We have to be willing to embrace the criticism levelled at aviation and make this our problem and turn it into a positive. We must make every effort to engage others to take positive action.”

He adds: “I am increasingly concerned that the level of civil disruption occurring in our capital cities will only serve to hurt ordinary people and disrupt their livelihoods. We need a positive and inclusive message. Not one that is steeped in hypocrisy. We need to inspire consumers and business leaders alike to get behind this issue and do something positive. I hope Victor will set an example; only time will tell.”


Also read: Working on the sustain gang

Also read: Victor commits to cutting emissions

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte October 16, 2019 11:31

One Minute Week Newsletter