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Airways NZ:
Challenging aviation growth forecasts

In 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasted that air travel would grow at 3.2% per year - more than doubling by 2050, at which point emissions from commercial aviation were targeted also to be ‘net-zero’.

Then CEO of Airways New Zealand and Executive Committee member of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), Graeme Sumner, was curious about that forecast. Graeme sought Proxima’s support to help research and prepare an address to the 2021 CANSO Executive Summit in Madrid.

Airways background

Challenging exponential growth

With Proxima’s help, Graeme posed a central challenge to executive members of CANSO from around the world:

Against the backdrop of climate change, it is neither desirable nor realistic that members of IATA should assume that air travel will more than double on pre-covid levels by 2050 and achieve net-zero emissions.”

Proxima supported Graeme’s address to highlight several drivers that challenge the assumptions and foundations underlying IATA’s forecasts:

  • The risks of looking backwards at past performance to predict a future that is exceeding planetary boundaries and overlooking limits to growth

  • The rebound effects from aviation efficiency that lead to higher aviation emissions

  • Optimistic dependence on exponential ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ (SAF) growth, and the consequences of releasing enormous amounts of emissions to create the infrastructure for SAF systems

Drivers such as these were identified through the lens of systems science, which embraces the complexity and interdependency of environmental, social, and economic systems rather than treating them as distinct parts. The same principles that Proxima uses for strategy development and impact analysis are equally as useful for assessing the sustainability of institutional policies, commercial targets and, in this case, industry growth forecasts.



Graeme’s address prompted constructive reflection among members of CANSO’s Executive Committee about the risks of relying on IATA’s growth assumptions. The address also led to the establishment of a working group within CANSO’s Environmental Committee to consider the in more depth.    


Our Approach

Proxima provides capability-building advice that empowers leaders to drive systemic change. We know that strategic responses to challenges are best created in partnership with our clients.

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Graeme Sumner

“Proxima’s research and expertise were invaluable in the preparation of my address to CANSO. I particularly appreciated how they worked alongside me as a critical friend, rather than just providing the answers. My toolbox for understanding the systems context of sustainability challenges is richer than it was before.”

Graeme Sumner - former CEO of Airways NZ

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