The Future of Airline Sustainability In Recovery Mode

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Airlines, News

The airline industry faces both short-term and long-term challenges to its stability and growth. While meeting the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines have not lost sight of the importance of sustainability in their operations.

While the “flight shame” movement that took hold in 2019 might be drowned out by a more common “shame we can’t fly” sentiment, the legitimate sustainability issues raised in Europe and around the world have not gone away just because there have been far fewer flights over the past year. This artificially imposed downtime will, thankfully, not last forever. While passengers may be eager to fly again, they will still be mindful of their carbon footprint.

However, the industry has taken steps to keep it on firm footing to address green-minded passengers’ concerns.

The Global Emissions Offset (GEO) will simplify buying carbon offsets on IATA’s Aviation Carbon Exchange (ACE), recently launched in partnership with the technology provider, CBL Markets. The GEO, developed by CBL, bundles several different certified carbon offsets into one contract, including carbon mitigation programs, such as forestry, habitat preservation, and renewable energy projects—all certified by third-party regulators as being CORSIA compliant under ICAO regulations. Through GEO, IATA explains, “airlines can buy bigger tranches of carbon credits under one umbrella scheme that meets all certification standards” while reducing the burden of individual due diligence to certify offset projects.

“The GEO is a game-changer,” said Sebastian Mikosz, Senior Vice President for Member and External Relations at IATA. “It shows that the ACE, which we launched just a few months ago, continues to provide key support for airlines when it comes to the issue of tackling climate change. The CORSIA agreement is a fundamental part of the industry’s aim to stabilize net CO2 emissions at 2020 levels, and the development of GEOs will help underpin that.”

Carbon offsetting is not the sole pillar of sustainability for aviation. Instead, it is a short to medium-term solution to help the industry meet its commitment to reduce aviation emissions, allowing more time for the development of other strategies including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen and electric technology.

During IATA’s 76th Annual General Meeting (AGM), which, like so many other industry events last year, went digital due to travel restrictions, IATA called on governments to support Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) development programs to meet the future needs of the industry.

The industry favors SAF as a “preferred solution” for long-term sustainability because it offers unique advantages.

  • Over its lifecycle, SAF reduces CO2 emissions by up to 80%.
  • SAF has safely powered more than 300,000 flights to date.
  • SAF is also scalable and ready to use in today’s fleet, requiring no engine modifications. It can be blended with jet kerosene as supplies increase.

Despite misinformation from some corners of the environmentalist movement, SAF is itself sustainable.

“All raw material (feedstock) used to produce SAF is sourced only from sustainable sources,” IATA explains. “Currently SAF is being produced from waste materials including used cooking oil and non-food crops, with municipal waste and off-gasses likely to be included in feedstock soon.”

But advances in SAF cannot happen without government support.

“We have long known that an energy transition to SAF is the game-changer. But energy transitions need government support,” Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA, said during the AGM.  “The cost of SAF is too high and supplies too limited. This crisis is the opportunity to change that. Putting economic stimulus funds behind the development of a large-scale, competitive SAF market would be a triple win—creating jobs, fighting climate change, and sustainably connecting the world.”

IATA suggested that government stimulus in support of SAF could include direct investment, loan guarantees, and incentives for the private sector. IATA also called on governments to address policy and regulations that affect SAF production, such as channeling feedstock expressly to produce SAF as a priority over other lower carbon footprint industries.

The challenge of SAF today is both an issue of affordability and production at scale, which of course, are interrelated.

  • SAF is currently (on average) 2-4 times more expensive than fossil fuels.
  • Current global production is about 100 million liters a year, just 0.1% of the industry’s total aviation fuel consumption.
  • Government stimulus investments could boost SAF production to 2% (6-7 billion liters), a potential tipping point that would bring SAF to competitive price levels against fossil fuels.

sustainable aviation panel

During the World Aviation Festival on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, a panel of experts will discuss the complexities and opportunities to keep airlines lean and green. Anna Mascolo, President, Shell Aviation, is joined by Lauren Riley, Managing Director, Global Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, United Airlines; Annette Mann, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Lufthansa Group; Karel Bockstael, VP Sustainability, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines; Adrian Gane, Director Sustainability, Industry, and International Affairs, ETIHAD; David Morgan, Director of Flight Operations, easyJet; and Daniel Riefer, Associate Partner, McKinsey & Company.

They will discuss policy and mandates impacting sustainable aviation fuels’ scalability as the most promising path to decarbonization. The panel will also address the challenges of financing sustainable operations and strategies for risk mitigation.

These experts will share their views on what new partnerships will emerge to help develop the technology required in the immediate future and examine how the industry might create an ecosystem that extends beyond the aviation sector to help the world meet stated climate goals. The panel will also address the image-side of the equation, discussing options to raise awareness of the industry’s sustainability programs, reassuring the world and the average passenger that they are making progress.

sir tim clark

Speaking of industry recovery and progress, few people in the airline industry can say they have seen and overcome as many setbacks or made as much progress as the inimitable Sir Tim Clark.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, from 9:00 am to 9:45 (UK) Bloomberg’s Guy Johnson will have a can’t-miss CEO Keynote Interview with industry icon and visionary Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates. They will discuss Emirates’ plans to return to a full fleet in 2021, the airline’s plans for the latest order of A380, and how a contactless journey will shape their customer experience. Sir Tim Clark will share his thoughts on whether the airline industry is in shape to respond to a rapid demand-driven bounce back. He will also share why he thinks network airlines will come back stronger than ever.

Mark your calendars and set your reminders! Wednesday, April 21, will be another multiple-headliner day at World Aviation Festival.