While the airline industry has suffered great financial loss during the pandemic, the positive effects on the environment from a lack of international movement are undeniable.

Following a report from IQAir, 84% of countries have reported cleaner air quality during the pandemic. With travellers more cautious about international travel and the boom of domestic tourism globally, airlines are under increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions and restore international travel confidence.

Lockdown has forced consumers to re-evaluate their priorities

The pandemic has given consumers time to re-evaluate their buying behaviours, with many on furlough or unemployed. According to GlobalData’s global coronavirus (Covid-19) recovery survey (fieldwork undertaken December 2020), 47% of consumers said they would now either ‘slightly,’ ‘significantly’ or ‘prioritise’ the reduction of their environmental footprint. Recent reports of cleaner air and a decrease in global pollution will further spur this consumer need for environmental sustainability in travel and tourism.

The IQAir report will cause further strain for the airline industry. International travel is already under pressure due to various factors such as travel restrictions and economic decline. Many consumers are also considering taking a long-term break from international travel. In the aforementioned GlobalData coronavirus survey, 39% of respondents said they intend to reduce international travel after the pandemic, which could be linked to concern for the environment. In the same survey, 76% of consumers also advised they were either ‘always,’ ‘often’ or ‘somewhat’ influenced by how environmentally friendly a product is. This data shows that the environment is at the forefront of the consumer’s mindset, putting further pressure on airlines to create innovative strategies and solutions to win back consumer demand.

Airlines must innovate sooner rather than later

Sustainability and environmental issues have been on the airline industry’s agenda for many years. Airlines have had to develop strategies to keep with the trend, but IQAir’s findings could accelerate consumer interest in sustainable products and services. There have been some notable initiatives in the airline industry. Air Canada is the most recent airline pledging an ambitious target to reach net emissions by 2050. Air Canada’s sustainability movement followed AIG, Qantas and American Airlines, among other major airlines, showing a commitment to tackle climate change.

There is now growing pressure on other airlines to follow suit, particularly given the uncertain industry climate. Consumers are considering the environment more than ever. Ultimately, airlines who fall behind or cannot invest in new, more fuel-efficient technologies risk further damage to their business model and reputation. With the airline industry in such a precarious position, this risk is very much a possibility. With environmental sustainability only being likely to increase in importance in the coming years, airlines will have to pay greater attention to this factor or jeopardise their chances of a full post-Covid-19 recovery.

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