In an Iata newsletter last week, Airlines International Editor, Graham Newton, spoke to CEO of KLM, Marjan Rintel, on a range of aviation topics, particularly sustainability.
Q: What can the industry do to persuade governments that aviation is not an environmental problem but a significant generator of jobs and GDP?
A: “At the moment, it seems that the preferred way to solve problems is to just use less and less. If you want to emit less carbon, you do less flying. Politicians aren’t moving beyond this.
“But there are other solutions. Isn’t it strange that governments have not solved the Single European Sky (SES), for example? It would save 10% CO₂ and yet it seems they feel no pressure to get SES sorted.
“Aviation is a hard-to-abate sector, and we all understand that. We can also accept the need to accelerate our sustainability work. But what we do have is a clear target and a commitment to reduce noise and emissions and get to nett zero by 2050. The only way we can achieve that is by working together, including governments, and focusing on ways forward that encourage innovation without compromising connectivity.”
Q: Can you tell us about your sustainability efforts?
A: “KLM has taken sustainability seriously for a long time and across the board we are highly committed to it. We are investing in new fleet, in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and in projects to evaluate and test electric aircraft. They are all important.
“In 2011, we carried out the world’s first commercial flight partly powered by SAF, and we aim to use 10% SAF by 2030. We’re heavily involved in buying up SAF supply too.
“But it is vital to be efficient on the ground too. About 70% of our ground vehicles are electric and we have just launched a new electric water vehicle. But this is also about how we deal with waste and making sure we have the right amount of food and beverage on board to reduce waste and weight.
“At KLM, we have up to 60 sustainability initiatives and sustainability is part of every decision we make.”
Q: Do you believe the industry can be nett zero by 2050?
A: “It is good to have ambition and an aspirational target, but it is crucial that we turn it into reality.
“The industry can’t do it alone, however. SAF producers, academia, governments, Original Equipment Manufacturers, and many others must work with us to make the breakthroughs we need. For example, corporates need to demand and buy up SAF, so suppliers feel confident about the market.
“I am confident. Step by step, we will get there.”
Q: Is aviation doing enough to improve diversity and do you feel pressure to be a role model?
A: “I feel pressure as a CEO because we are in a turbulent world, and this is a volatile industry. There are many challenges, including supply chain disruption, potential economic recession, and staff shortages. We are not yet back to full capacity following the pandemic and we have an election coming up in the Netherlands with many local issues.
“All that has nothing to do with me being female. What you need is diversity in your teams. Our employees come from over 70 different countries. You need people around you with different ideas who take a different angle on possible solutions. If you have the right debates within your teams, you will be making better decisions.
“We can always do better with diversity. I talk to younger women all the time, but I talk to them as a CEO as well as a woman. I prefer to look at diversity in a broader sense and ensure we have the right teams and culture. It is important to build the right foundations for the future and that means ensuring diversity in its broadest sense.”
Q: Is digitalisation the right way forward or is there a danger of technology for technology’s sake?
A: “If you want to be efficient, reduce cost, and provide a better customer service then you need to use new technologies. Customers want personalisation and they want fast, accurate responses to their needs. You need technology to do that, and you need the right data.
“It is the data that is key but making sense of that and translating into better customer service requires technology. In particular, the industry needs to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence and learn from experts in other fields.”
Q: If you could change one thing about aviation with a click of your fingers, what would it be and why?
A: “We absolutely need sustainable aviation. If we could truly fly sustainably tomorrow, without emitting carbon, it would change so many things in the industry, from the taxes we pay to the way this industry is perceived.
“If we could get a meaningful breakthrough, or accelerate SAF production, it would mean so much. That is why we must work harder at sustainability and why all our partners must step up. It is not just about being cleaner, quieter, and more efficient, it is about the complete transformation of the industry and the way it does business.”