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The ex-pilot calling for a green transition

Words by Smiley Team

After landing his dream job as an airline pilot, 33-year-old Todd Smith woke up to the environmental impact of the aviation industry with life-changing clarity. Balancing his concern about climate change with a desire to help his colleagues, he launched an initiative called Safe Landing.

Jetting around the world to exotic countries, Todd initially loved his role at Thomas Cook. But when his medical was revoked due to gut health, he found himself at a loose end. Not long after he was diagnosed with eco-anxiety and these two experiences coincided to radically transform his perspective.

“I started to connect the dots about my industry's impact,” Todd tells Smiley News. “I had no idea it was eco-anxiety initially. But I felt there was a deep sense of conflict growing within me.”

Without work to occupy him, he decided to travel to Peru, where the impact of his sector became even more apparent.

“I visited Rainbow Mountain and I was shocked to see there was no snow on its summit as there should have been,” he recounts. “This loss had started a couple of years prior to my visit, and it was just a really bittersweet experience for me, witnessing the effects of climate change and mass tourism firsthand.”

[Read more stories about people taking positive action to support people and the planet]

In 2019, he found himself at an Extinction Rebellion meeting where he met another pilot who - like him - feared for the future of the planet, as well as the aviation sector.

Realising his experiences were not unique, Todd decided to set up Safe Landing, an initiative to start the shift to a greener economy by opposing growth in the aviation sector while protecting jobs.

Following the COVID pandemic, when air traffic declined by nearly 50%, he believes we should reassess the industry’s future and recognise the limited ability of technology to reduce its impact. 

Gradually workers from across the sector have joined the initiative. Today the group includes all kinds of aviation workers including pilots, cabin crew, air traffic control staff, engineers and aircraft designers. They are visiting airports to engage an even broader membership so that everyone from baggage handlers up through the ranks can get involved.

For members such as Alan, a first officer from Hong Kong, the initiative offers them great reassurance. He says: “As someone who cares deeply about the health of our planet but who is also passionate about aviation, it’s difficult not to feel like a hypocrite. Safe Landing has allowed me to connect with other aviation workers who feel the same and who want to drive real change within the industry to lead it towards a sustainable path.”

Likewise, air traffic manager and Safe Landing member Siân Andrews cares deeply about the cause. She says: “I don’t want to stand by as the industry says positive things about future technological solutions which are as yet unproven, and still decades away from full deployment, whilst actively increasing emissions with more and more flights.”

Eventually, as their numbers grow, they hope to create an assembly in which workers lead the discussion on the future of aviation and their jobs in the context of the climate crisis.

“I believe we can come to a collective, rational decision which ensures that we change trajectory and make a safe landing so that we can take off and fly towards a greener future,” says Todd.

Inspired to act?

TAKE ACTION: If you or someone you know works in aviation, get involved with Safe Landing by emailing [email protected].

FOLLOW: Keep up to date on Safe Landing’s campaigns on Instagram or Twitter.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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