Ryanair and its university partner Trinity College Dublin are beginning what will be 12-24 months of work to establish a roadmap for Europe’s largest low-cost carrier to achieve a newly announced commitment to power 12.5% of its flights with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030, the airline’s Director of Sustainability, Thomas Fowler, tells Mark Pilling. Ryanair made the commitment while unveiling the launch of the Ryanair Sustainable Aviation Research Centre in a “landmark initiative – the first of its kind in Ireland”, with a €1.5 million ($1.8 million) donation which Trinity will use to seed a team to research SAF, zero carbon aircraft propulsion systems and noise mapping.
“This new knowledge will inform the policies of both EU and international governments on making aviation environmentally and economically sustainable, as well as harness future investments by the aviation industry towards sustainability,” said Ryanair. The project, which will employ six people, is due to begin in summer 2021.
“Given the Ryanair brand and our size in Europe, we wanted to give a commitment to do something that would make the industry stand up and take note of,” said Fowler. “It’s a demand signal.”
Ryanair has already been using SAF on a regular basis in Norway, where since 2020 there is a requirement for 0.5% of all fuel usage to be SAF. The carrier has been discussing SAF with major fuel suppliers for a couple of years and will most likely start offtaking SAF under any European blending rules as and when they come in, said Fowler. Ryanair will carefully consider its SAF offtake strategy as it has 84 bases around Europe, with its largest markets being Spain and Italy.
While Ryanair used about one billion gallons of jet fuel in 2019, the key metric that the carrier tracks is grammes of CO2 per revenue passenger kilometre. In 2019 this number was 66g, and the target is to reduce this to 60g by 2030, said Fowler. This target was set prior to the 12.5% commitment and the carrier could well do better than this with an increased usage of SAF, he added.
Over the coming 24 months, Ryanair’s fuel efficiency will gain a major boost with the introduction of increasing numbers of new Boeing 737 Max aircraft powered by CFM International’s Leap-1B engine. “By 2025, 40% of our fleet will be 737 Maxs,” said Fowler. Ryanair has had initial discussions with Boeing and CFM about the prospects for next generation aircraft with novel propulsion technologies such as hydrogen, but this is a “longer play”, he explained. “SAF is what we are working on at the moment.”