Air Transport: What Route to Sustainability?

Major aviation conference highlights importance of international cooperation

By Pascal Zamprelli

How has the financial crisis impacted the airline industry? What are the environmental challenges it is facing? Where will the industry be in five years?

These questions, and a host of other issues – ranging from privacy and health concerns related to full-body scanning to the efficiency of security systems, the best alternative fuels to the impact of volcanic ash – were discussed and debated at a major gathering of civil aviation experts co-hosted by McGill.

Air Transport: What Route to Sustainability?, held Sept. 26 and 27 at the Hilton Bonaventure was a joint effort of the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

On the agenda were four fundamental themes of concern to the immediately ensuing ICAO General Assembly: the state of the industry; safety, security, and facilitation; environmental impact; and strategies for a prosperous future.

Monday’s keynote address was delivered by Calin Rovinescu, President and CEO of Air Canada and a McGill graduate who has also guest-lectured in the faculties of Management and Law and who’s son recently graduated from the Law faculty.

“When you consider it, it is remarkable that a global $550-billion industry that has existed for a century should still be having conferences with such an existential theme as What Route to Sustainability,” Rovinescu said. “After all this time, you would think we would have long ago arrived at that destination.”

Rovinescu conceded that the airline industry is fraught with risk and uncertainty that result in regular downturns and, periodically, outright meltdowns. Calling the last two years “disastrous” thanks to a combination of security failures, financial conditions and unpredictable environmental events, he nonetheless explained that “cautious optimism” is returning to the industry. He concluded that further international cooperation is the key to the future of an industry that is by definition global.

“It strikes me that the issues Air Canada faces at this time are common to very many airlines throughout the world,” he said. “For this reason, the route to sustainability is indeed a journey many international airlines must travel together.”