Green Skies? Airlines Need a Tail Wind to Decarbonize
I recently attended a webinar on need to decarbonize the air transport industry – a very urgent priority ! Pierpaolo Cazzola, International Transport Forum (ITF), an inter-governmental think tank, presented the organization’s recent findings and recommendations, ahead of the upcoming International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conferences.
The “Decarbonizing Air Transport” report shows a tough road ahead for cutting emissions in the airline industry. To set the stage for this challenging task, we should note that before COVID-19, 2.5% of the world’s emissions were from fuels consumed in air transportation. These emissions have grown substantially, despite big advances in engine and airframe design. Increased market demand, has seen air traffic grow at a rate far outpacing the efficiencies of better designs! The report predicts, this high rate of growth will continue once the pandemic is behind us. So how do we to deal with the dilemma of growth and pollution?
Not surprisingly, it will take private and public sectors working together. But what are these priority actions ? Below are some recommendations put forward by ITF.
COVID-19 recovery plans should be tied to decarbonization requirements – Airlines have been hammered by the pandemic. Some have gone out of business. In APAC several have serious financial issues, resulting from massively reduced passenger travel. Virgin Australia and Air Mauritius have both applied for voluntary administration. Thai Airways is restructuring through bankruptcy court. Many more have simply lost so much business that it is only through government intervention that they manage to keep the lights on.
Whilst government monies continue to pour into bailing out airlines, this is the opportunity to focus on a decarbonization plan, linked to investment. Airlines must be compelled to establish clear long-term visions to set, monitor and reduce emissions. Targets should be aligned to Paris Climate Agreement. Airlines must be obliged to change their attitude to think and act in eliminating their carbon footprint.
Establish fuel quality standards to encourage SAF use – Governments need to establish requirement for timely and ambitious fuel quality standards, that encourage use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). This is an actionable requirement to set, as it can be easily audited.
Establishing international targets to create an even playing field – According to ITF, flights over 8,000 kilometers, mainly international flights, account for 20% of all emissions. Unfortunately, international flights are seldom regulated for their fuel efficiencies and emissions. Governing bodies tend to regulate only flights that traverse within their borders. An international body, like ICAO can help to establish international fuel efficiency and emission targets. Not only will this create an even international playing field, it will also require international flights to adhere to the same requirements as domestic flights.
Government support for R&D is key – researchers and the air industry recognizes that increased use of SAF, carbon taxing and better fuel efficiency will not on its own clean up all the carbon. This is why Government R&D support in carbon-free aircraft or more scalable SAF alternatives are the only sure way to get CO2 out of air transport by 2050.
Innovation on such a grand scale is not impossible, – humanity has done it before. For the air transport industry, it may be the most important initiative of all, because if it cannot compete with other transportation modes in emissions reduction, it may simply lose its business – one customer at a time.