A few weeks ago, the great and the good of the aviation industry were meeting in Cancun, Mexico for the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) 73rd Annual General Meeting. But unlike the glitz and glamour of the recent Paris Air Show, this was a chance for representatives from 275 airlines to discuss the biggest problems facing commercial aviation at the moment.
Between them, the member airlines represent 83% of all global air traffic. As Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General explained, this was an opportunity for industry heavyweights to “work together to address air transport’s most critical issues.”
And boy, do they have some big issues to contend with at the moment. High up on the agenda were discussions to prevent an extension of the U.S. Laptop Ban, as well as combatting human trafficking and reducing carbon emissions in the aviation industry. At the same time, Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker was forced to rush home following the fallout of a diplomatic rift between Qatar and four of its neighbours in the Gulf.
On top of all that we’ve now also learnt, during the short time he was in Cancun, Baker was delivering the shock news to his counterpart at American Airlines that Qatar planned to buy a significant stake in AA. It’s a move that AA’s CEO, Doug Parker has said he isn’t “particularly excited about.”
Luckily, there was also some universally accepted cause for cheer at the event as 12 new airlines signed up to the Buckingham Palace Declaration as part of the ‘United for Wildlife’ initiative. That brings the total number of airlines who have pledged to fight against transportation of illegal wildlife products to 38.
The initiative is led by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and brings together seven respected conservation organisations to fight the “rapid escalation of illegal wildlife trade.” International charities involved in the project include WWF, Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and ZSL London Zoo.
United for Wildlife estimates the illegal wildlife trade is worth between $7–$23 billion USD per year. In South Africa, Rhino poaching soared 5,000% between 2007 to 2011 and 1,425 wild tigers are believed to have been illegally killed between 2000 – 2012. The illegal trade in Rhino horn is said to be at it’s highest level in 20 years and increased air transport is making the issue worse.
The groundbreaking Buckingham Palace Declaration was designed to make it harder for criminals and gangs to take advantage of air transport as a means to commit their crime. After 12 months of negotiations, the first group of airlines signed up to the initiative in March 2016.
As part of the initiative, members airlines commit to:
- Adopt a zero tolerance approach to illegal wildlife trade
- Increase awareness amongst passengers and staff
- Provide staff training to identify and report suspected illegal wildlife trade
- Collaborate with partners and stakeholders to reduce the trade
The signatories are also expected to develop a secure system to share information about suspected illegal wildlife trade, pass on information to relevant law enforcement agencies and develop information about ‘high risk’ routes.
One of the first signatories to the declaration was Dubai-based airline, Emirates. To help spread the message, the airline has emblazoned a specially commissioned ‘United for Wildlife’ livery on four of its Airbus A380 aircraft. Emirates has even painted a scale model of its aircraft at the iconic Heathrow roundabout, passed by over a million passengers annually.
Speaking at the time, Tim Clark, Emirates’ President commented: “As the world’s largest international airline, we believe we can make a difference to help break the supply chain of illegal wildlife trade. We will continue to do all we can in this regard.”
He continued: “The illegal wildlife trade has brought many of our planet’s most majestic animals to the brink of extinction. It is unthinkable that a generation from now, there may be no more rhinos, elephants or tigers to be found in the wild. The need for action is urgent, and both the demand and supply side of the illegal wildlife trade has to be tackled.”
At the IATA annual general meeting in Cancun, the following airlines added themselves as signatories to the Buckingham Palace Declaration:
Transportes Aereos Portugeses, Lao Airlines, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Aerovías de Mexico, Air Transat, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Air France and EgyptAir.
A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines said the carrier had “long been against the illegal transport of wildlife and unsustainable animal products.” The airline bans the carriage of all wildlife apart from domesticated cats and dogs (and emotional support animals on U.S. flights).
Meanwhile, Air France said it was concerned about the rise in illegal animal trafficking in Europe. It said the continent had become a trafficking hub. Air France’s CEO, Franck Terner, explained the airline “will make an active contribution to the efforts of all those involved to eradicate this rapidly growing traffic, both in Europe and in the countries we serve.”
To find out more information about the project, you can visit the United for Wildlife website. You can also sign up to a free online conservation course by following the external link.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.