The airline industry may be slightly on the back foot with the flak it gets from environmentalists on account of its emissions. But Tony Tyler, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association and former chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, played firmly on the front foot at yesterday's Greener Skies conference.
"Aviation impacts on every aspect of our lives, the food we eat, the medicines we rely on, the global exchange of ideas, the development of business opportunities, the ability to interact with colleagues, friends and family on a global basis. Aviation has enriched our world," Tyler enthused.
Indeed, you almost expected him to go to the next level, like Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, and announce: "We're doing God's work."
Cathay Pacific's current chief executive, John Slosar, caught the attention of his audience at the Greener Skies conference with a couple of questions. "So how many of you flew into Hong Kong for this conference?" A flurry of hands. "How many of you checked the internet this morning or had a look at your e-mails." An even bigger show of hands. "Regardless if you went online or flew into Hong Kong - you have contributed to 2 per cent of man-made CO2 emissions. If you did both, that got you up to 4 per cent." The Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications reckons the internet contributes the same amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the aviation industry.
At the same time, Slosar could not resist poking fun at Tyler, his former boss at Cathay. "I am sure Tony's comments will prove enlightening as always - and trust me on this. I have heard a huge, huge volume of Tony's comments."
Government fear of flying
Is politics obstructing environmental progress in the aviation industry? Greener Skies conference panellists, who were all from the industry, seemed to think they had done their bit. Five years ago, many airlines had no idea what their emission levels or how to count them. Now just about every airline can show how it intends to become carbon-neutral. The efficiency of aero engines has been hugely improved, and the industry is financing experimentation with biofuels.
But governments have been slow to deal with the inefficiencies of air traffic management systems, which, by keeping aircraft in the air for longer than necessary, increase fuel costs and emissions while the development of biofuels receives nothing like the subsidies that governments have heaped on solar and wind energy development.
Missing: our protectors
One notable absentee from the Greener Skies conference yesterday was Hong Kong' s Environmental Protection Department. This would have been a good occasion for them to hear what the industry was up to. Maybe the invitation didn't get through the government's red tape but these are useful occasions for government to get out of its boxes and hear different views and approaches to dealing with emissions.
This is a big topic for Hong Kong, particularly with the looming environmental threat of the airport's proposed third runway. But you feel that some government people don't like to get out of their comfort zone and expose themselves to different thinking. Hopefully, the new brooms at the Environment Bureau will change all that.
Pearl of the Orient
The Greener Skies conference yesterday is the fifth that has been staged in Hong Kong by the magazine Orient Aviation. The conference has grown over the years and now attracts a strong lineup of delegates and speakers from the likes of Iata, the EU and leading airlines and engine manufacturers.
John Slosar, whose Cathay Pacific was a sponsor of the event, paid it a big compliment, saying: "I continue to see Greener Skies as an important forum which helps to provide the leadership for what needs to happen next."
Indeed, Orient Aviation , which was started in 1993, is "the leading commercial aviation magazine in the Asia-Pacific region", according to the market research firm AC Nielsen. This is no small achievement for founders Christine McGee and Barry Grindrod, who, some years ago, used to work for our own august organ.