Willie Walsh, former CEO of both British Airways and IAG, and soon to be the new Director General of The International Air Transport Association (IATA), sees sustainability as “more important than ever”.

Speaking at ITIC’s major virtual conference yesterday – Leading the Tourism Recovery – Walsh said that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, “Some people will think that the emphasis on environmental issues may have eased a bit. I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be more important than ever.”

“I think that the challenge for the aviation and particularly airlines is greater than it has ever been. The industry is going to have to demonstrate that it has a credible path to sustainability in the medium and long term.”

Walsh said that one positive sustainability measure was that the Covid crisis had seen airlines retire a lot of older aircraft which means that the fleets will be significantly more efficient than was the case in 2019. Nevertheless it was “Very important that everybody in the industry is honest about this because it’s a huge challenge. The change in political leadership in the US will make it an area of focus in the US as well.”

The aviation industry is aware of the threat of regulation, particularly from European governments, and Walsh referenced that in his comments.

“This will be absolutely critical for all of us to be clear about our role, what it is we can do, to do everything possible within our control, and to be proactive. We can’t wait for legislation to be forced upon us, we should be embracing this, we should want to do better, for all of our sakes. I see this as absolutely critical.”

Speaking about his decision to end his retirement from the aviation industry to become Director General and move to Geneva, Walsh said that sustainability was “…one of the things that spurred me on to take on the role at IATA. I have been passionate about this within the aviation industry and I think we are going to have to do even better on this than we have done in the past.”

For more information on carbon offsetting within the aviation industry, and the role of CORSIA (the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), see: