Sustainability and airline success now inexorably linked: Air France chief

Sustainability and airline success now inexorably linked: Air France chief

The rise of sustainability as a challenge for the airline industry has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, to the point where business success is inexorably linked to carriers significantly reducing their environmental footprints, in the view of Air France chief executive Anne Rigail.

“We need to be competitive to be sustainable, and if we are not sustainable, we will not have any customers any more in our aircraft,” Rigail states during a CAPA Live event today. “So, both are totally linked.”

Since 2019, sustainability has rocketed up the airline agenda, Rigail explains, amid rising expectations among the travelling public. And the imperative to address the issue is becoming “all the more acute” as living through a devastating global health crisis causes people to question the future impact of “ecological emergencies”.

To meet this challenge, “we have to be very transparent on our environmental impact”, Rigail says. “Our duty is to reassure our customers that we are doing our utmost, with all the stakeholders… so that we can [offer] the most sustainable travel.”

With that goal in mind, airlines will need to be competitive enough to pay for the fleet renewals that deliver greater efficiencies, alongside investments in sustainable aviation fuels, which Rigail notes are extremely expensive today.

At Air France, fleet investments – and the “20-25%” efficiency savings they bring – have been protected, despite the need to cut capital expenditure during the Covid-19 crisis, Rigail says.

The SkyTeam carrier is continuing to receive 38 Airbus A350-900s – with six taken so far, according to Cirium data – while the first of 60 Airbus A220s is due to arrive in September this year.

Among the toughest challenges ahead, Rigail observes, long-haul flying is unlikely to be achievable with the electric and/or hydrogen-powered aircraft that could service short-haul routes by the mid-2030s.