Airlines Hold Fast to Global Consensus in Fractured World

Global airlines made a full-throated defense of globalization on Monday at their largest annual gathering, vowing not to give up on climate change agreements and calling for a swift resolution of a diplomatic rift threatening air travel in the Middle East.

Missing from the general meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Mexico was Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker. Usually a star of the show, he appeared to have left the summit amid a dispute between Arab powers.

Asked about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s move to ban Qatari planes from their airports and airspace, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac called for openness.

“We would like borders to be reopened, the sooner the better,” he told reporters, expanding on earlier remarks in the opening session.

“Aviation is globalization at its very best,” he had told executives from IATA’s more than 200 airlines. “As aviation’s leaders, we must bear witness to the achievements of our connected world.”

Qatar Airways could not be reached for comment.

The Arab rift was a stark reminder of the political risks to the airlines, which have run up healthy profits even as the global consensus they rely upon comes under the threat of nationalist and protectionist political currents.

Forecasting a third straight year of robust earnings, IATA raised its 2017 industry profit outlook on Monday to $31.4 billion, up from a previous forecast of $29.8 billion.

The IATA also raised its outlook for 2017 industry revenue to $743 billion from $736 billion on expectations that the global economy will post its strongest growth in six years.

The forecast underscored a new golden age for airlines’ profitability even as carriers scramble to meet fast-changing electronics restrictions, pressure to limit emissions and unprecedented scrutiny on social media over their every mistake.

A United Nations representative urged airline leaders to stand by an industry emissions accord known as CORSIA even as U.S. President Donald Trump breaks with a climate pact struck in Paris last year.

“We need to promote implementation of this historic agreement,” said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

IATA’s de Juniac said the airlines would hold fast to their commitments.

“The very disappointing decision of the U.S. to withdraw from Paris is not a setback for CORSIA,” he told the meeting.  “We remain united behind CORSIA and our climate change goals.”

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