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ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, reflects on planning for a sustainable recovery of the world’s airports.

The airport sector, as an integral part of the global aviation ecosystem, has been among the industries most heavily affected by the global pandemic.

The world is changing fast and, and while COVID-19’s impact on the industry has been far greater than what we have previously experienced.

According to the recently released Air Transport Action Group report, Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders, air transport supports 87.7 million jobs and $3.5 trillion in global economic activity. In fact, 60% of direct aviation jobs are at airports.

As a result of the pandemic, however, it is predicted aviation-supported jobs could fall by 46 million to 41.7 million (-52.5%) and direct aviation jobs (at airlines, airports, manufacturers and air traffic management) could fall by 4.8 million, which is a 43% reduction compared with pre-COVID situation.

Recovery will once again require heightened levels of collaboration and partnership among industry stakeholders.

Airports will play a very important role on the economic recovery of the industry and sustainability is more important than ever. The current crisis has made it clear how vulnerable the aviation industry can be to external shocks, and without a doubt the long-term survival of the aviation sector will also heavily depend on the ability to reset to a more sustainable model that meets the demands of the climate emergency.

While we work toward a return to normal operations, it is important to note that “the normal” before the pandemic had its challenges that have not gone away.

While scrutiny of our efforts in this area is expected and welcomed, it is important that the considerable and measurable efforts of the aviation industry in making flying more efficient and more sustainable are recognised.

The industry as a whole is committed to developing further solutions towards decarbonisation of the sector while continuing to bring valuable connectivity to people, business and communities we serve.

Whilst acknowledging the difficult times ahead, it is crucial for the aviation sector to take a holistic approach to long-term planning, not to look for short-term fixes that increase the risks to the environment. Creating a sustainable system that strikes a balance among the three pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental – should be the priority.

Over the last forty years, the aviation industry has invested billions of dollars in research and development which has resulted in measures and practices that have made significant progress in reducing its environmental impact. Collaboration across the whole industry to reduce emissions follows a four-pillar strategy of: new technology (including sustainable aviation fuels), efficient operations, improved infrastructure, and market-based measures.

ACI is taking a leadership role through the Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme’s growth year after year. The programme, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, boasts 311 participating airports and continues to gain adherence because it recognises that airports can address their CO2 emissions in a variety of ways.

ACI World has also established a Task Force to work on a long-term carbon goal for airport operators, including considerations of net zero carbon airports by 2050, while ACI Europe has unveiled a comprehensive Sustainability Strategy which commits the European airport industry to reach net-zero carbon emissions generated by the airport operator by 2050.

However, it is for each airport, nation, and region to commit to a strategy that considers local conditions. ACI World aims to support the global membership by identifying potential pathways to more ambitious targets.

The recovery from COVID-19 offers us an opportunity to build back better – making the industry more resilient than ever. The pandemic has shown how important timely actions are to address a looming crisis and delaying actions may lead to irreversible loss and economic cost. Climate change remains the greatest challenge facing the world. Delaying our efforts to reduce emissions today means more ambitious target and actions will be required in future.

The benefits that the aviation industry delivers should be seen in parallel with its ongoing pursuit of sustainable development, which necessarily includes environmental responsibility.

The future of aviation depends on our dedication to the cause of sustainability and ACI will continue to work with the global aviation sector and stakeholders so that we can be a strong part of the solution.

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