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Net Zero Push Could Bring Down Major Airlines, Report Warns

Analysts say the conditions are right for airlines to fail with carbon targets, falling business travel and shareholder activism all bringing pressure to bear

Plane flying above Padova
Fund managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard Group, have expressed concerns about climate change. Photo: Reuters


Some of the world’s major airlines need to pick up the pace on cutting their carbon emissions or face the prospect of going under, an industry report has argued.

The CAPA Centre for Aviation and Envest Global says several airlines have three to five years to get their houses in order due to a mismatch between short-term corporate travel targets and the airline industry’s 2050 net zero target.

Airlines are also at a rising risk of shareholder activism at a time when major fund managers such as BlackRock Inc, Vanguard Group Inc and State Street Corp have publicly expressed concerns about climate change, the report released on Wednesday said.


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“The pressure from customers and governments and investors is going to probably demand an acceleration of the journey to net zero, which is clearly going to put pressure on airlines,” said David Wills, advisory executive director at Australian carbon reduction strategy firm Envest.

“The conditions are right for airlines who get it wrong to find themselves in a potential failure situation,” he added.

Several companies, such as HSBC Holdings plc, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, Bain & Company and S&P Global Inc, have already announced plans to quickly cut business travel emissions by as much as 70%.

Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce said last week that his airline was developing a 2030 emissions target.

“Our view is that smart airlines will pivot to reinforcing not only 2050 but enhancing their definitive views on 2030, because they will be looking to engage with their corporate customers more,” said Brett Mitsch, Envest’s executive director of investment.


Fuel-Efficient Planes

The CAPA/Envest report found the top quartile of 52 global airlines examined emitted an average of 30% less per passenger kilometre flown in 2019 than those in the bottom quartile. 

Low-cost carriers like Wizz Air, Ryanair and AirAsia with newer fleets and higher load factors were among the best performers, while the worst included  Turkish Airlines, Japan Airlines Co Ltd (JAL) and British Airways.

JAL said it was introducing more fuel-efficient planes and looking to secure more sustainable aviation fuel to meet a target of lowering absolute emissions by at least 10% from its 2019 levels by 2030.

The CAPA/Envest report said JAL was able to break even with a carbon price of more than $160 per tonne based on 2019 earnings, whereas many airlines with lower profit margins would have reported a loss at a carbon price of $30 per tonne.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara


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Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


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