Air Cargo Management

ACE23: Virgin Atlantic Cargo lobbies for change to IATA’s emissions calculations

Virgin Atlantic Cargo is calling on aviation body IATA to rethink its emissions protocols for cargo arguing they unfairly mitigate against belly hold passenger aircraft operators.

The carrier is part of the Smart Freight alliance of shippers and airlines that is raising concerns about current calculations that put cargo carbon emissions on an equal footing with passenger.

Speaking to Airline Cargo Management at last week’s Air Cargo Europe trade show in Munich, Virgin’s managing director of Cargo Phil Wardlaw said a debate is required.

“The way IATA has agreed to calculate it at the moment, you are looking at an equal share between cargo emissions calculations and passenger emissions calculations.

“From a cargo perspective, we feel that’s not necessarily worded correctly, it should be more incremental. We run cargo as incremental to the passenger business.

“Because we only fly belly hold cargo, we could argue that the aircraft is flying any way and we are taking up what would otherwise be empty space.

“Aircraft are designed to have freight in them in the expectation of having cargo, otherwise you could argue you could have more seats downstairs.

“There should be a much more balanced view in how they calculate the emissions. At the moment you are apportioning too much CO2 to cargo.”

Wardlaw said the impact of this is that customers needing to offset their scope 3 emissions – generated in the value chain by assets you do not control – will favour cargo-only airlines.

However, with plenty of available capacity in the bellies of the world’s fleet of passenger aircraft, this will lead to an overall increase in the number of flights, not less.

“You are potentially going to end up with a worse outcome for sustainability than the one you are trying to correct,” warned Wardlaw.

Discussions with IATA are said to be at a very early stage and airlines are working with Smart Freight to come up with an alternative solution.

“As always, there are going to be different views, but that’s why there needs to be a debate,” said Wardlaw.

Virgin is expecting to see a stabilising of the market by this September and is hopeful of a small peak in Q4 of this year.

Wardlaw said currently high demand for passenger flying is driving capacity above 2019 levels and this is having an impact on pricing alongside economic challenges.

But he expects 2014 to see the market return back to pre-pandemic normality. “2024 will be the re-set,” he said, “it feels back to normal.”

Wardlaw added: “What’s interesting is how the industry grows. We are going in to some quite interesting places.

“We are shortly going to be announcing four or five new routes, three of which are strong cargo routes. We are excited about that. It really will diversify the network.”

Post-Covid higher yielding traffic that came to air from ocean is returning while perishables are regaining ground. Pharmaceuticals is a big focus for Virgin as part its strategic plan.

“We believe the service we deliver is really valued and appreciated and we can win some of that premium market share,” said Wardlaw.


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