Passengers Keen To See Airline Sustainability, Conference Hears

passengers at airport
Credit: ArtMassa

Passengers will be willing to pay higher ticket prices to airlines that can demonstrably prove that they are acting in a sustainable manner, design guru Paul Wylde said June 13.

Speaking after a session at the Passenger Experience Conference (PEC) in Hamburg, Wylde said that this phenomenon had been seen in other industries and there was no reason why it should not also apply to airlines. 

During a PEC session on “renewal and revolution” in the commercial aviation sector, Virgin Atlantic VP customer journeys and reward Anthony Woodman concurred that environmental considerations were becoming increasingly important to passengers.

“Customers are interested in their footprint on the world,” Woodman said. However, passengers looked at the issue in a different way than airlines. Whereas airlines had silos of people looking at issues such as plastics and carbon, passengers looked at carriers’ sustainability efforts in the round. “I don’t see it as a plastic premium or carbon premium; I see it as a brand premium.”

The session heard that major efforts were going into trying to create new, lightweight, sustainable materials for cabins, both to cut weight (and thus fuel burn) and to meet the sustainability brief. 

However, Matthew Nicholls, sales director of cabin interior materials specialist Tapis, said some lightweight materials, such as magnesium alloys, met the weight brief but had potential safety implications on issues such as flame resistance. Additionally, some of the potentially most promising bio-materials face a major problem in being scaled up from laboratory experiments to commercial usage, he said. 

Nicholls knew of one company that had spent eight years and large sums of money trying to create an artificial leather and as yet could only produce it at a petri dish level, with no firm indication as to whether this could be scaled up to commercial quantities. “There’s a reason why leather is the third-oldest product in human history,” he said. 

Other materials, while on the surface providing good sustainability characteristics, carried hidden costs, Nicholls added.

Bamboo, for example, was a readily renewable resource that grew quickly, but required quite intensive processing procedures. Wylde said that one of the barriers to bringing into service new materials were unwieldy and bureaucratic certification requirements. 

Wylde suggested that the industry should consider doing more to get the message on what it was doing to make commercial aviation more sustainable out to consumers.

“Design for airlines and aircraft is an inherently sustainable process,” Wylde said. The industry’s continual quest for efficiency, expressed in areas such as reduction in parts count, weight-saving and adaptability “are inherently sustainable processes. The challenge now is how to communicate that elegantly.”


Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.