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Interview: Oneworld CEO on Pandemic Response and Environmental Sustainability

Royal Air Maroc Boeing 737-800 in oneworld livery at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo: AirlineGeeks.com | John Flett)

The Oneworld alliance currently has fourteen member airlines serving a network of over 1000 destinations in more than 170 territories. Following an event in Nigeria to celebrate Royal Air Maroc’s second anniversary of membership in the alliance, Airline Geeks asked Oneworld chief executive officer Rob Gurney for comments on the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the alliance and the overall airline industry. Mr. Gurney was also asked to comment on what he saw as the main learnings that indicate things must change significantly for the benefit of Oneworld and the wider aviation industry.

 AirlineGeeks [AG]: What do you feel the Oneworld alliance did well and is doing well in response to the pandemic?

Rob Gurney [RG]: In 2020, our immediate priority amid the onset of the pandemic was to support our member airlines and establish the groundwork for the enablers to support strategic recovery from the pandemic. We also took a fiscally prudent approach to conserve cash but maintain all critical operations.

We partnered closely with our member airlines on strategic recovery initiatives to enable the restart of travel. For example, we launched a COVID-19 testing trial with American Airlines and British Airways to demonstrate the role that testing can play to safely reopening travel. In 2021, we partnered with member airlines to develop a solution that will facilitate the exchange of health credential solutions on connecting journeys, eliminating duplicative checks of customers’ health credentials at the transit point.

As global travel resumes, we are progressing a number of strategic initiatives that will deliver further value to member airlines and customers, details for which we will share in due course.

AG: In broad terms what do you feel the airline industry did well?

RG: At the beginning of the pandemic, the industry took quick action to right-size its capacity and protect its liquidity when faced with a difficult operating environment marked by rapidly changing government travel restrictions that impacted consumer travel demand. This further underlines the agility and resilience of the airline industry, following several challenges in the past two decades. The industry also quickly implemented health and well-being measures to ensure the safety of customers, including the wearing of masks and increased/enhanced cleaning, and actively communicated them.

As an industry, we continued to demonstrate how partnerships make us stronger. Airlines actively partnered across the industry in advocating for the safe restart of travel, speaking as one voice. Within Oneworld, partnerships among member airlines grew significantly notwithstanding the pandemic, for example, the partnership between American Airlines and Qatar Airways and the West Coast alliance between Alaska Airlines and America.

As a global alliance, we worked closely with our counterparts at SkyTeam and Star Alliance in advocacy efforts and raising customer awareness of what our member airlines were doing to keep customers safe onboard. As global travel gradually resumes, we firmly believe that partnerships will occupy an even more important position in airlines’ strategic plans, particularly as they emerge with smaller networks and fleets.

AG: What do you see as the main learnings that indicate things must change significantly for the benefit of Oneworld and the wider aviation industry?

RG: Environmental sustainability and the role played by the aviation industry came into greater focus during the pandemic, despite a significant reduction in flight activity. There is an immense opportunity for the airline industry to take a leadership role in this space, beyond the efforts that are already in progress.

As an alliance, we are strongly committed to advancing sustainability and that is why we made a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, about six months after the start of the pandemic. We have continued to build upon this commitment with a sustainable aviation fuel target (10% by 2030) and joint SAF sourcing and procurement with our member airlines. In the future, we intend to announce additional initiatives to further demonstrate the strength of our commitment to sustainability.

The author’s trip to Morocco and Nigeria was provided by Royal Air Maroc.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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