Issue Briefing: Airlines 4 America = Airlines Against the Climate

The US airline trade association, Airlines for America (A4A), has opposed almost all serious efforts to regulate aviation climate pollution at the international, regional, or national level.

“[A4A] will not accept any form of burden whatsoever,” said one airline industry representative in 2012. “[A4A CEO] Nick Calio has been appointed with the task of making sure that there will be no further taxes or levies imposed.” 1

Disregarding ample economic and scientific evidence, the organization has claimed on numerous occasions that the industry’s commitment to carbon neutral growth can be achieved through voluntary-only initiatives. A4A has even insisted that including aviation emissions in market-based measures that price carbon would be harmful for the environment. 2

A4A wields an extraordinary amount of power in Washington and has significant influence over key decision-makers in both political parties. A4A’s President and CEO, Nicholas Calio, formerly served as an Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs for both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. 3 In 1998 Fortune Magazine named him one of Washington, DC’s ten most powerful lobbyists. 4 According to the Center for Responsive Politics, A4A spent nearly $34 million lobbying lawmakers during the last three sessions of Congress. 5 Currently 26 out of its 28 reported lobbyists working on behalf of A4A have previous employment in government. A number of former elected officials, including former Majority Leader Trent Lott and former senator John Breaux, have lobbied on behalf of A4A. 6

The U.S. airline industry’s opposition to all regulation stands in stark contrast to the policy stances of other airlines around the world. During the early 2000’s, climate action was embraced by upper management at British Airways and Honeywell and the two companies became outspoken advocates of emissions trading for aviation, sponsoring research, organizing support among other companies, and publicly promoting the government’s efforts. 7 In 2008, the head of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, openly endorsed a carbon charge on aviation. 8 In 2009, the President of British Airways, William Walsh, called the exclusion of aviation from the Kyoto Protocol an omission that needed rectification. 9 When a carbon tax and emissions trading program was proposed in Australia in 2011, Qantas Airlines never attacked the government’s proposal and continuously affirmed the need for regulation throughout months of consultation and public debate. 10

Meanwhile a growing number of airlines throughout the world—including Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways, British Airways and Finnair—are working proactively to reach an agreement on the international level. 11 Not a single American airline belongs to the group of airlines supportive of regulation that has come to be called the ‘Global Deal Group’. According to observers familiar with the United Nations’ process, the American lobby has sought to marginalize the more constructive airlines within the international airlines association while publicly opposing the group’s efforts to develop a comprehensive international solution to curtail aviation emissions. 12  

A4A is a laggard when it comes to embracing climate solutions.  The airlines are letting A4A do their dirty work to fight climate change solutions on their behalf.  United Airlines, as one of A4A’s largest and most influential members, and CEO Jeff Smisek, as Vice Chairman of A4A, can help steer A4A in a new direction, but they will only act if their customers are demanding that they do so.

Quote taken from Foster, Chase. 2012. “American Policy Development: Mitigating the U.S. Response to the EU ETS.” Policy Analysis Exercise. Harvard Kennedy School. See <>.

2 In testimony to the U.S. House Commerce and Transportation Committee on July 27, 2011, Nancy Young, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at A4A described the EU ETS as “anti-environment.” Last accessed on Nov. 14, 2012.

Nicholas E. Callio,” Airlines for America Website, <>.


Between 2007-2012, Airlines for America reported spending $33,987,582 lobbying Congress. See

See Katarina Buhr, “Bringing Aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme: Institutional Entrepreneurship at Windows of Opportunity,” Dissertation for Uppsala University in Sweden, Defended on December 19, 2008. A book version of the dissertation can be found at <>.

10 For one example see “17. Qantas Airways Limited” Sept. 22, 2011. Public Submissions. “Inquiry into Australia’s Clean Energy Future,” Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Clean Energy Future Legislation,” Australian Parliament. <>.


12 For instance, at the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen, A4A purchased a four-page color glossy wrap the International Herald Tribune that insisted on the “sectoral approach.” Former A4A CEO, James May has also made several public statements opposing the Global Deal Group’s efforts.

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