Australia and New Zealand risk being the hardest hit by cutbacks to air connectivity as the world meets climate commitments, aviation groups have warned.
Air links to the South Pacific stand to become fewer and more expensive as airlines reallocate resources.
Last month the Australian Airport Association warned that the region risked being “priced out” of international aviation networks, as a part of the world that relies heavily on long-haul air travel.
James Goodwin, chief executive of the AAA, told an Australian parliamentary inquiry that their “position at the edges of the global air network” may see European and Middle Eastern-based airlines prioritise other destinations.
“For an international carrier trying to reduce its emissions – and it may have its own targets and obligations in its own country outside of global agreements – we know one way of reducing emissions is to simply not fly as much, and with Australia at the end of the world it would be very easy to just no longer fly to Australia,” Goodwin said.
With ambitious emission goals set for 2030 and 2050, the AAA warned that Australia needed to keep a strong profile to stop airlines and other nations from reducing flights to the region when meeting carbon accounting obligations.
“Failure to negotiate an effective and equitable deal for Australia may mean a contraction in Australia’s connectivity to the world,” the AAA said.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel and greater efficiencies needed ‘urgently’
New Zealand aviation bodies are also aware of the challenge of being a relatively isolated region.
Places at the end of the global aviation network are made are exposed to cutbacks in connectivity, said the NZ Airport Association.
Policy Director Steve Riden said that the Australian Airports Association was right to express concerns at a move towards global carbon pricing for aviation.
Mandatory emission reductions schemes would make aviation extremely expensive in some places and “wouldn’t just affect Australia and New Zealand, but also all the Pacific Island nations and anywhere that is relatively isolated such as Alaska.”
The NZAA said it is important for an “aviation dependent country” needed a strategy to get SAF (Sustainable Aviatino Fuel) production in place before the network was affected by mandatory emission caps - under schemes like CORSIA.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s carbon offsetting scheme (CORSIA) becomes mandatory for all members in 2027, creating a standardised market for airlines to buy carbon-offset credits.
The Board of Airline Representatives (BARNZ) says keeping New Zealand connected while meeting climate commitments was a “difficult” balancing act.
BARNZ chief executive Cath O’Brien the issue was recently raised in the Draft Tourism Environment Action Plan 2023.
“These connections are critical,” says O’Brien. Recent experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic, have demonstrated the impact of reduced flights on a “geographically isolated” region like New Zealand.
“As a country, we need to urgently prioritise the development of sustainable fuels for aviation and for long-haul marine cargo,” she said.
The tyranny of distance means that all aspects of aviation become more expensive and emission intensive.
Long-haul flights burn additional fuel not only due to the distances travelled but due to extra weight of safety fuel reserves required in case services need to divert.
Making RNZAF’s Ohakea (OHA) airfield available to take diverted services would be something New Zealand could do to reduce emissions, relatively quickly, says O’Brien.
“Most flights arriving in New Zealand from long haul destinations each night, and each weekend, carrying approximately 2.5-2.8 tonnes of additional fuel per flight to nominate Christchurch,” she says.
There are potentially 8.8 tonnes of unnecessary carbon emissions per flight. This could be reduced by identifying closer airports able to take diverted services.