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How Airlines Can Continue On A Sustainable Path With Post-COVID-19 Strict Sanitary Regulations?

Airlines have been working for years on how to become more environmentally friendly. In our blog post, 'Why should airlines monitor sustainability KPIs', we identify some of the central sustainability KPIs airlines should track to reduce the impact on the environment.

However, with the current COVID-19 crisis and the new hygiene and sanitation standards required to travel, airlines face additional challenges to be taken into account. Besides not losing their focus on the environmentally friendly path, they now need to ensure their staff and travelers’ safety is not being jeopardized. 

What Is Expected From Air Travel After COVID-19? 

Lately, we have seen all around the news how COVID-19 probably impacts air travel in the following months. Here are just a few examples:

  • The necessity to wear masks for all passengers.
  • Food needs to be pre-packed
  • Regulation to distribute amenity kits with antibacterial, disinfecting pads
  • The requirement to perform additional cleaning processes
  •  Avoidance of re-usable cutlery or glasses
  • Etc.

Airline Were Aiming For Zero-Plastic in 2019

Already during 2019, airlines were aiming to reach the zero-plastic policy in the upcoming years. For example, Qantas aimed to reduce plastic use by 75% by 2022 (ABC News, May 2019). Still, I’m wondering how these new policies and expectations might be handled by airlines to continue the path of zero-plastic and waste reduction. 

However, as airlines have to increase their cleaning procedures and are most likely to do additional cleaning in toilettes and trays during the flight, this probably will require more disposable resources. 

Based on the new conditions and restrictions, comes again the question, what should airlines take into consideration when tracking and measuring performance under the new regulations? And primarily, in which specific areas should they focus? 

The Answer Is Simple Yet Complex: All Areas Are Essential!

First, I am going to talk about a KPI that concerns Weight and Balance. If airlines are requested to have disinfectants and safety materials for each passenger or perform cleaning procedures also in-flight, how do these elements impact the aircraft’s weight and balance? We could consider an additional KPI similar to Cargo Weight specifically for safety material: Safety Supply Weight. 

Now, taking into account the turnaround process, there are many different factors to take into consideration. But, on the other hand, such as Catering, Safety Materials will have a specialized supplier taking care of providing and loading the materials for each flight. 

This implies an additional step in the Turnaround process. As a result, we can expect a scheduled start time, a scheduled end time, and actual times. Moreover, conditions have drastically changed, and airlines must reduce contact as much as possible during the different touchpoints of the traveler’s journey with the passengers and between staff.  

This contact reduction suggests that there is a high possibility that the crew must distribute the kits within each passenger’s seat before boarding. That will lead to extended aircraft preparation time or an entirely new process — safety material distribution time. 

What About Waste Generation?

Thinking about the changes and adaptations, it came to my mind that there’s a big possibility that this will increase waste generation. 

So, how do you consider airlines will overcome this situation? Recycling materials will probably become the leading player in the new sanitized traveling concept (Simpliflying, 2020). This becomes a huge opportunity for safety materials suppliers to provide the latest and innovative options to maintain the airline’s sustainability. But to give all necessary requests, airlines must map all the elements that would need to be introduced into their service.  

The Relevance Of Tracking Airline’s Sustainability KPIs.

IATA has a detailed cabin waste handbook from where we can develop and/or transform potential KPIs that should be considered in terms of sustainability, based on the Post-COVID-19 new travel requirements and regulations. 

Cabin Waste As Additional Sustainability KPI

Let’s start with Cabin Waste, defined as the waste generated within the aircraft cabin. This type of waste includes cleaning, catering, and galley or items brought directly from the passengers. 

Additionally, the cleaning waste collected during the cleaning procedures within the aircraft by the cleaning teams and wastes collected by the cabin crew during the turnaround process. 

Catering/Galley waste corresponds to the waste generated as a result of in-flight food and drinks service. With all the expected materials and supplies to be offered, it seems meaningful to transform these three waste categories into Recycling and non-recycling waste measures. With this distribution, airlines will control how much waste has increased under the new regulations. 

  • Recycling Cabin Waste Rate from a Total Cabin Waste, 
  • Recycling Cleaning Waste Rate from a Total Cleaning Waste 
  • Recycling Catering/Galley Waste rate from Total Catering/Galley Waste 
  • Recycling Safety Supplies Waste Rate from total waste

The measures above are just some options to determine the actual waste generated. Additionally, as soon as operations re-start, the current trash can be compared to the pre-COVID-19 waste values generated during last year with the Zero-Plastic policy. 

Based on these measures, airlines can understand how much the new regulations have impacted their goals of zero-plastic and waste reduction and create a transition plan together with the suppliers, not to disrupt the sustainable path.

Apart from this, the airline will have an easier identification of materials generating waste and how more environmentally friendly resources could replace this. 

It’s All About Accuracy!

The more in-depth the airlines track their waste, especially under new regulations, the more accurate they will have by implementing the circular economy concept promoted by IATA.

A circular economy encourages keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the minimum value from them, then recovering and regenerating the products and materials at the end of each service life (IATA,2019). This notion is linked to one additional concept known as donation or redistribution. This applies to food and drinks that are packaged and safe for consumption and donated in case of non-use.

This concept can also be referred to as non-used safety supplies (hygiene kits) distributed. They can be either given to health institutions if not used or re-distributed within other flight legs.  

In other words, airlines face a new challenge: They need to use more disposable materials for passengers and staff safety. Nonetheless, the challenge to keep their sustainable and environmental objective on track is vital. For this reason, identifying the critical points by measuring waste or times with the new conditions can facilitate the decision-making process.  

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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