The commercial aviation industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the United States and globally. The drastic drop in demand from both business passengers – with remote work, most regular business travelers can instead use video conferencing – and leisure passengers – with most of the world in lockdown, few are willing or able to travel far – has left airlines in the United States and abroad reeling. To help make passengers feel safe, airlines like Southwest Air, Delta, and American Airlines instituted policies of maintaining empty middle seats and reducing flight capacity to support social distancing – but in doing so, they have further decreased their ridership and revenue. Forbes reported in June that 81% fewer passengers entered through a TSA security checkpoint on June 24, 2020 than did the previous year on June 24, 2019. Industry revenues are projected to be down more than 85% from last year.
Globally, the aviation industry produced 2.4% (or 905 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) of total carbon emissions in 2018, and 3% of U.S. total emissions (202 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). As the industry has grown in the past decade, its emissions have also risen – despite improvements in fuel efficiency – and are projected to triple by 2050. Jet emissions are more potent than auto emissions because of their proximity to the upper atmosphere and the composition of their exhaust.
The U.S. commercial aviation industry reported $247.64 billion in 2019 revenue, and in July 2019 the industry directly employed 449,907 full-time equivalent workers. In addition to its direct employment, Airlines for America claims the U.S. commercial aviation industry supports 10 million U.S. jobs throughout the nation.
On the international stage, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), requires offsets for emissions from international flights to aim for carbon-neutral growth from 2020 on. However, most U.S. commercial aviation emissions come from domestic flights, for which there is no binding national offset scheme available nor required.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., the federal government passed a $2 trillion aid package, which made available $50 billion in grants and loans to U.S. airlines. Airlines that receive federal funding are prevented from laying off or furloughing frontline employees through September, and are limited from buying back shares and increasing executive compensation. However, the bill includes no environmental provisions.
The United States should create a complementary program to CORSIA for domestic emissions, requiring offsets to produce carbon-neutral growth. Additionally, the federal government should provide grants for research in sustainable, alternative, low-carbon fuels. These principles should be included in any economic recovery plan to support the aviation industry – bailout funding should be tethered to offset requirements and should require at least 25% of research and development funding to be set aside for the development and deployment of low-carbon jet fuels.
Activity Rating: **Standing Still
While House Democrats pushed for the inclusion of climate mitigation and adaptation elements into any economic recovery or stimulus proposals, no such provisions have made it into the final package.
Contact your Senators and Representatives with the following message: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved disastrous for American public health and economic prosperity – but climate change is an ever-present threat that will lead to more disasters with catastrophic public health, safety, and economic effects. We have an opportunity to rebuild our economy to make it better than it was before, but we need to take bold action to incorporate climate change mitigation and resilience policies into our response. Please commit to requiring any federal aid package for carbon-polluting industries like the commercial aviation industry to include provisions for offsetting and reducing emissions.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard US Country Manager Stephanie Gagnon