The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Sustainable Aviation Group to Release Air Transport Carbon Roadmap

The UK’s Sustainable Aviation coalition is set to release the fifth edition of its ‘carbon roadmaps’ which present an annual overview of what the air transport industry group sees as key opportunities for airlines and airports to decarbonize. The latest document will be published next month during the Sustainable Skies event to be held in Farnborough from April 17-18, will include the coalition’s perspective on the role that hydrogen propulsion could play in achieving the target of net zero carbon by 2050 and an update on efforts to significantly expand the availability of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

“We’re prioritizing work on SAF because this is available today,” Jonathan Counsell, the group’s former chair and member of its council, told FutureFlight. “Around 200,000 tons were available in 2022 and this needs to increase to millions of tons by the end of the 2020s.”

The coalition, which has 40 member companies, has lobbied for more concerted UK public policy to drive up SAF use by commercial airliners. In the first instance, it welcomes the levels of government financial support for increasing SAF supplies, including £160 million ($192 million) in grants to support early-stage projects in the energy and air transport sectors.

But to achieve the required quantum leap in SAF usage, Counsell, who is also head of sustainability with the International Airlines Group said that other inducements and the removal of obstacles will be needed. These, the coalition believes, should now include statutory mandates that are anticipated in the next 18 to 24 months that could require that SAF accounts for 2 percent of all aircraft fuel supplied at UK airports by 2025, rising to 10 percent by 2030.

The final mechanism based on government policy, argues the coalition, is a SAF price stability mechanism. “This is necessary [to boost the availability of SAF supplies] because investors want protection from possible downsides,” Counsell said. “We’re calling for something like the mechanism that is already applied in the wind energy sector.”

In the coalition’s view, these public policy levers will in combination achieve a tipping point in SAF adoption by the air transport sector. “Airlines will have to buy it and if suppliers can’t supply SAF there will be a buyout clause,” Counsell explained. “We haven’t decided what that will be yet, but it will be higher than the market price for SAF.”

SAF isn’t the only game in green aviation, with some stakeholders increasing raising hopes for the impact that hydrogen could have in cutting carbon emissions. Counsell’s employer IAG has invested in ZeroAvia, the U.S.-based start-up advancing plans to convert existing regional aircraft to hydrogen propulsion. “We think it won’t make a significant difference until 2035, but hydrogen will be relevant for short-haul aircraft and could change the equation for short-haul trips.”

Looking across the Atlantic to the U.S., the coalition sees the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Inflation Act providing strong incentives to invest in the greening of aviation. “The European Union is taking this legislation very seriously and the UK needs to do that too,” said Counsell. “We could build 14 SAF production plants in the UK over the next 10 years but it would take $10 billion in capital. We welcome the race to produce more SAF.”

The coalition is backing next month’s Sustainable Skies event and aims for it to be different from most industry conferences in showcasing carbon-reducing technologies in development. “We will demonstrate that SAF is available, with SAF-powered flights being conducted there,” Counsell said.

The Sustainable Skies agenda is focused on the next steps the industry intends to take to achieve its net zero commitments. Sessions will include a discussion of ICAO’s recent adoption of this policy at a United Nations level.