The NATS (National Air Traffic Services) air traffic system outage in the UK earlier this year was “a disgrace”, IATA director general Will Walsh told this week’s World Aviation Festival.
He said he has seen the report on the failure, which was estimated to have cost airlines £126m and was blamed a rouge fragment of data being inputted by a foreign airline, and it was “just rubbish”.
“The idea that they can have the system collapse because of the reason they have identified is just unacceptable,” Walsh said. “There will be these issues from time to time. Fortunately they are rare.”
Walsh said the recovery in the aviation sector is “gathering pace” but there are some issues, like the closure of air space and the slow rebound in Asia, particularly China.
“From the figures we see, and listening to CEOs, they remain optimistic about the outlook for this year,” he said.
Walsh said the industry has coped with high fuel prices above $100 before and key for airlines is the crack spread, the difference between crude oil prices and the products derived from it, such as jet fuel.
He said the crack spread is “particularly high this year” although the sector has seen levels of around 34% in the past.
“That’s added to the cost pressure airlines have seen, but the demand remains strong,” said Walsh.
He added: “The economic fundamentals continue to see GDP growth at a global level and we still have high employment levels.
“That combination of global growth and high employment, they are factors that have a big impact on the demand for aviation. There are always going to be challenges but the general picture continues to be positive.
Asked about the UK government’s recent moves to water down its net zero commitment, Walsh was dismissive:
“What the British government does the rest of the world can ignore. It’s more about the politics of the Conservative party and the lead in to the next General Election.”
Walsh said rising fuel prices will fall on airlines but the industry should not be made to bear all the cost of development new alternative fuels.
And he was scathing about the prospect of airlines being penalised for failing to hit targets for SAF use.
“This idea of mandating airlines to buy something that does not exist, only politicians can come up with something like this. We have to see a more pragmatic position adopted.
“There are ways of promoting the production of SAF rather than mandating airline to buy something that’s not there.”