ATW Editor's Blog

Editor's Blog: The USA becomes the unnamed problem child


If you wanted an indicator of how far the US has fallen in the regard of global opinion, Cancun would be a good place to be this week.

As the world’s airline CEOs gather at the annual IATA AGM, this year in the Mexican vacation resort city, there is a consistent pattern of executives and officials talking about industry problems caused by recent American policies. Typically, however, they never mention the United States or the new US president by name.

In his opening remarks Monday, IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac repeated his mantra that aviation is “the business of freedom”.

“Today,” he said pointedly, “we face headwinds from those who would deny the benefits of globalization. In parts of the world, nationalistic political rhetoric points towards a future of more protectionism. That is a threat to our industry.”

He did not specify the origin of those headwinds, and for sure the US is not the only place on the planet adopting a more nationalistic view, but was there anyone in the room who didn’t have a picture of Donald Trump in their head at that point?

Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa, whose airline is this AGM’s host and who is AGM president, also never mentioned the US or Trump in his opening speech. He never said the word “wall” But he referred to the joint venture Aeromexico has recently signed with Delta Air Lines as “the strengthening of the bridge between our two countries”.

That JV and bridge was especially important, he said, because “we are living in a world where some people are thinking of taking steps back from globalization and point us in the direction of protectionism.

No need to say outright who those “some people” are.

ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, another keynote, did not mention the US or Trump by name when he referred to air transport industry commitment, via last year’s carbon offset CORSIA agreement, to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020. What he did say, however, was clearly directed at the White House.

“We should dispel in Cancun any idea that recent events on the Paris Treaty will have any impact on CORSIA,” Aliu said.

Even in talk about the US [and UK] cabin laptop ban that might be widened to include flights from Europe to America, there is little-to-no direct reference to the Trump administration that unilaterally imposed these new rules without consulting the industry. Instead, the talk centers on the impracticality and potential hazards of such a ban and the actions that are needed to stop its spread.

Essentially, the sub-message is how to find workarounds to mitigate the effects of an America that has become unpredictable, bombastic and protectionist. Everyone here is focused on the global air transportation industry, but the pattern is likely repeating in other industries.

Karen Walker

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