We have made travel more accessible and now we must focus on decarbonization

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By parm maan

Environmental sustainability, technology and digitization, regulations or operational costs are challenges that any company faces on a daily basis. And the aviation sector is no stranger to this. Some airlines are already positioning themselves as key players in transforming the industry, from their low-cost approach to their commitment to economic and environmental sustainability. We interviewed Vueling's Director of Communications, Sustainability and Public Affairs, Sandra Horse, who fills us in on some of the challenges facing commercial aviation.

How has the low-cost model contributed to the democratization of access to travel?

When we talk about low cost, we mean a model based on the personalization of services, which consists in the fact that each person pays for what he is going to use. As a low-cost airline, we prioritize that our fare scheme always has the smallest option, offering competitive prices for passengers who don't require additional add-ons. Travel used to be a major economic endeavor, and the low-cost model has allowed millions of people to access air travel, facilitating experiences away from home, sharing knowledge and fostering greater investment in the region.

For additional services, such as the current debate over checked baggage fees, what is your approach to striking a balance between affordability and economic sustainability?

This is the basis of the working model: freedom of the tariff and applying it in a model that is beneficial to the consumer. A few years ago, some passengers had to pay for services that others used. The price was the same for everyone, regardless of whether you went to Madrid with a bag for a day or carried several suitcases. Now you can choose how much to pay and for what. Without this option, we would all be paying a lot more to fly.

What will be the consequences of the government's proposal to eliminate short flights?

The proposal has no real impact on decarbonisation. Its application will reduce CO emissions by only 0.7%2: created by aviation. A sector that currently accounts for 2-3% of the total. On the other hand, the measure will hurt the development of the areas, investment… because it will have a direct impact on connectivity, not only on point-to-point connections, but also through its role in feeding passengers on long-haul flights.

If a person from China wants to travel anywhere in Spain without a short flight directly connecting centers like Barcelona or Madrid to their final destination, they will likely choose another center like Paris that does have that connection. This is a loss of opportunity and competitiveness.

Regarding the possible transfer of low-cost flights from El Prat Airport to alternative airports such as Girona or Reus, what would be the implications?

One of the possibilities of “Barcelona” is to act as one of the main hubs. El Prat, where Vueling has a market share of around 42%, is already one of the best connected airports in Europe, and this is important for promoting long-haul, which should feed into short-haul. People want to connect quickly and comfortably to their final destination from the same hub, and if they don't do it in Barcelona, ​​they will connect in other airports. Furthermore, this high European connection allows for large investments in the city, attracting talent and hosting major events such as MWC or Copa América.

“Our bet is SAF, which is produced from organic waste and reduces emissions by 80%”

Vueling is celebrating its 20th anniversary. What has been your economic and operational contribution over these two decades, and how has the company evolved to adapt to market changes?

Vueling is born with 5 destinations… And today there are 250 routes, more than 90 destinations from Barcelona. We are leaders in domestic traffic, the most punctual operator in El Prat and one of the main airlines in Europe by flight volume. Our evolution has been strong and Pratt has grown alongside Vueling. We serve 36 million passengers. We are committed to digitization in our service and product offering. We are now focused on using facial recognition together with AENA to continue improving the customer experience, and we are partnering with several organizations on pioneering initiatives.

We also bet on seasonality. A few years ago Vueling flew a lot in the summer but not so much in the winter. As part of our transformation, we've managed to reduce attrition from 40% in 2019 to 20% so far and ensure our offer is consistent throughout the year. An example of this strategy is the Balearic Islands. In Menorca, we are the only company that operates in winter, and thus the Barcelona-Menorca route is maintained every day, a fact that has direct cohesion in the development of the area.

So we managed to do about 500 flights a day in the winter, double before the pandemic, and we maintained the peaks in the summer with 700 to 750 flights a day.

What do you see as the future of aviation in terms of sustainability?

In the medium and short term, it is SAF, a sustainable aviation fuel produced from forest, agricultural and livestock waste, which reduces emissions by 80% compared to conventional fuels. And the big bet is synthetic SAF, which is created by CO capture2: the atmosphere mixes with green hydrogen and allows for a 100% reduction in emissions. But the SAF available today is scarce, with production covering around 0.05% of demand. Which is a challenge, but also an opportunity. We wanted to quantify it with a study prepared in collaboration with PwC, which concluded that Spain has the resources and raw materials to be a benchmark in the SAF industry, with the creation of up to 30 or 40 plants that will create an impact of 56,000 million euros. in GDP and up to 270,000 new jobs. In Catalonia, this could represent an impact of 10.6 billion on GDP and create 41,500 jobs. We can be a productive country in the field necessary for the development of tourism and economy. And we believe that is the way.

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