Speaking at the Global Sustainable Aviation Forum, industry leaders have reiterated that long-term climate action should be a priority alongside economic recovery.
Image courtesy ATAG
Despite the current crisis facing the global aviation industry, its commitment to pursuing sustainability remains strong, particularly as the sector starts to recover.
Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group, Michael Gill (above) said: “Air transport is in the midst of the deepest shock in its history. We expect a reduction of up to 4.8 million jobs in the sector by the end of the year and a massive hit to our ability to connect the world. However, as we plan for the recovery of air connectivity, we also must prioritise our environmental progress.
“Our sector has a long-term climate change goal to cut CO2 emissions in half by 2050. With the right help from governments, the energy sector and technologists, we expect that global aviation will be able to hit net zero emissions a decade or so later. Some parts of the world will be able to meet this point earlier and a number of individual companies have already set goals along these lines. To achieve this will require a transition in our energy source from fossil fuel to sustainable aviation fuel, the acceleration of research and development of electric, hybrid and potentially hydrogen aircraft. It will also require a commitment to collaboration going even beyond our current levels. We have the next decade to set the scene for sustainable global connectivity for the next 30-40 years.”
Speaking about the need to focus on sustainability as part of the industry’s long-term recovery from Covid-19, the Director General of Airports Council International, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, said: “The recovery of the aviation industry will be a key driver of the global economic recovery. To ensure that aviation can continue to provide the economic and social benefits, it is crucial that we pursue a green recovery and lay the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable industry for the long term. Airports are central to the interconnected and interdependent aviation ecosystem. Airports and their partners in the aviation industry need the support of appropriate regulation and government policies to facilitate a green recovery and push for real change.”
Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation Director General Simon Hocquard said: “Meeting our ambitious sustainability goals continues to be of paramount importance and will only happen if everyone in the aviation system plays their part. From implementing new operational procedures to adopting the latest technologies, the ATM industry has an important role to play in improving the efficiency of aviation in the near term, before new electric aircraft technologies or zero carbon fuels come on stream.”
Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said: “COVID-19 has devastated the aviation industry. But we are working hard to re-connect the world safely and sustainably. We’re committed to pushing ourselves, our partners, and governments to achieve our carbon targets in a green recovery. But this is not the time for more environmental taxes that punish people for reconnecting with family or who contribute to economic recovery with business travel. For aviation, the keys to combatting climate change remain investments in carbon offsetting, sustainable fuels, and radical green technologies.”
Chair of the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations, Eric Fanning, said: “Manufacturers invest billions of dollars a year to make the next generation of airplanes even more fuel efficient, but disruption from COVID-19 will make it difficult to maintain this level of investment in research and development. Moving forward, government and industry leaders must find new ways to collaborate on funding and developing innovative technologies that will address climate change."
In its recently released new analysis - Waypoint 2050
- the aviation sector details how it can meet its climate goal of cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2050, compared with 2005. It also highlights that net-zero emissions from air transport across the global could be achieved a decade or so afterwards. The plan will rely on a significant shift away from fossil fuels, the introduction of radical new technology and continued improvements in operations by the sector.
Michael Gill said: “A decade ago the aviation industry became one of the first to commit to a long-term climate action plan. We are now able to provide detailed analysis of different pathways to achieve the goal of halving net aviation CO2 emissions by 2050 and, with the right support from governments and researchers, be on our way to net-zero emissions a decade or so later.
“We should be under no illusion that the decarbonisation path for aviation is an easy one. Without the ‘off-the-shelf’ technology available to most other parts of the economy, reaching our climate goals is going to be a significant challenge. But our Waypoint 2050 analysis shows that decarbonisation is possible, and in a number of different ways. We now need the commitment from governments, the energy industry, researchers and from the aviation sector itself to make it happen.”
The prospect of new technologies such as radical aircraft designs, electric and hydrogen powered aircraft is factored into the analysis and these are expected to be able to enter the fleet from around 2035-2040 for short-haul flights. Operational improvements such as more efficient air traffic management and better use of existing aircraft play a fundamental early role and help reduce emissions further. Most importantly, the nearly complete shift to sustainable aviation fuels – up to 450-500 million tonnes of this low-carbon energy source – will be required to meet the industry’s climate goal.
Michael Gill said: “For sustainable aviation fuel in particular, we need support from governments in the next decade to help set the stage for the future of low carbon connectivity. These new fuels are already flying today – over 270,000 commercial flights have taken off so far – but are still a tiny part of our overall fuel mix. We know that we can begin the energy transition away from fossil fuels in earnest, but we need support from governments to do so. Importantly, we know that this new fuel can come from completely sustainable sources and there is enough of it available without impacting on land or water use.”
The analysis released by the industry, alongside work by governments and researchers, will be used to inform United Nations negotiations towards a long-term climate goal for air transport. The aviation industry has encouraged this process, anticipated to be finalised at the next International Civil Aviation Organisation Assembly in 2022.