Last week’s Singapore Airshow reflected a growing focus of the air transport sector on decarbonisation across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. Impacted by the recent eruption of Covid’s Omicron variant and onerously imposed government restrictions, the show attracted just 13,000 registered visitors, less than half the 30,000 who attended in 2019, while the number of exhibitors fell by over a third. Although there was a handful of orders for narrowbody passenger aircraft and widebody freighters, many announcements focused on sustainability partnerships and initiatives by airlines, aerospace manufacturers and fuel companies. A significant number of the declarations made at the show underscored the commitment of host nation Singapore to become a sustainable aviation hub and an APAC decarbonisation leader through measures including sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen propulsion and the use of renewable energy on the ground, reports Tony Harrington.
To guide the strategy, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it will produce a Singapore Sustainable Air Hub Blueprint by early 2023 and has established a 20-member International advisory panel of industry and technology leaders to develop and progress the plan. Their first meeting was held on the sidelines of the show.
“While the immediate focus of the Singapore air hub is to revive air travel, we cannot lose sight of the longer-term challenge of climate change,” said Singapore’s Minister for Transport and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, S. Iswaran. “This is a challenging endeavour, especially at a time when aviation companies are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic,” he said. “It will require strong public-private partnership and cross-sectoral collaboration to innovate and reinvent the aviation ecosystem.”
In the days before the air show, a 12-month pilot programme was announced by CAAS, Singapore Airlines (SIA), Exxon Mobil, waste-to-fuel producer Neste and state investment company Temasek to assess the supply, distribution and use of sustainable aviation fuels at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
During the event, SIA – together with aerospace companies Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Safran, plus the support of aerospace sustainability consultancy Roland Berger – signed the Global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Declaration, an initiative urging airlines, aerospace suppliers and fuel partners to support accelerated development, production and use of SAF. SIA was the first airline to sign, underscoring its commitment to decarbonisation, said Lee Wen Fen, the airline’s SVP Corporate Planning. “Beyond SAF, we also use multiple levers to achieve our goals, including achieving higher operational efficiency and investing in new-generation aircraft.”
The declaration notes that to achieve a net zero target for global aviation by 2050, it is likely a production capacity in the order of 500 million tonnes of SAF would be required. “Recognising that aviation operates within a complex framework of international regulatory and safety requirements, a large-scale uptake of SAFs will require a collaborative effort from a broad range of organisations, with each playing a different role, from research, to production and logistics, to utilisation,” it says. “We will need to work progressively towards the expansion of SAF globally and regionally, with the intention of maintaining a level playing field.”
Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Rolls-Royce, added: “It is important that we combine our efforts and focus into building the momentum required to drive this forward. We are all big advocates for the development of alternative propulsion solutions including hydrogen, hybrid-electric and electric, and we also recognise that SAFs are a key building block to set us on our path towards achieving our long-term decarbonisation goals.” Airbus Chief Technical Officer Sabine Klauke urged other key aviation stakeholders to also sign the declaration. “The challenge is to further increase and encourage the uptake of SAF globally, as well as incentives and long-term policies that encourage SAF use,” she said.
Oil company Shell announced at the show that it would become the first supplier of SAF to operators in Singapore, following the upgrading of its local facility to enable blending of sustainable product with conventional aviation fuel, sourced by Shell Aviation from Neste. The first batch will be blended in Europe, before the task is transferred to Singapore. “Alongside investing in our capabilities to produce SAF, we are also focused on developing the regional infrastructure needed to get the fuel to our customers at their key locations,” said Jan Toschka, Global President, Shell Aviation. To support its aim of globally producing some two million tonnes of SAF per year by 2025, and subject to a final investment decision, Shell has proposed a biofuels facility within its Energy and Chemicals Park in Singapore, with annual capacity to produce 550,000 tonnes of low carbon fuels including SAF.
At its Singapore facility, SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) has just completed a trial of SAF in a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine, which is used to power Airbus A380 aircraft. Conducted with Singapore Aero Engine Services (SAESL), a joint venture of SIAEC and Rolls-Royce, the trial used a 38% blend of SAF, producing 32% lower carbon emissions than conventional fossil jet fuel. “As SIAEC grows its engine services business, we recognise the importance of mitigating potential impact to the environment,” said the company’s CEO, Ng Chin Hwee. “The successful trial using blended SAF at our engine test facility marks SIAEC’s capability and readiness to support the aviation industry towards the net zero carbon emissions goal.”
Dominic Horwood, Services Director of Civil Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, said the SAF engine test was “an important milestone in accelerating the adoption of SAF in MRO services across the Asia-Pacific region, enabling our partners and customers in the transition to low carbon aviation.”
Neste and Japanese industrial partner Itochu Corporation announced plans to increase the availability of SAF in Japan by expanding a partnership they formed in 2020, through which Neste delivered its first SAF into Asia. Under the expanded agreement, Itochu will distribute Neste SAF in Japan, initially at the nation’s two largest international airports, Narita and Haneda in Tokyo. Neste is expanding its Singapore refinery, which it expects to increase SAF production from 100,000 tonnes to up to 1 million tonnes a year by the end of Q1 2023.
Hydrogen propulsion also featured at the Singapore show. Beyond the SAF developments, CAAS, Changi Airport Group (CAG), Airbus and the energy engineering company Linde, announced a joint two-year study into developing an aviation hydrogen hub in Singapore. The partners will explore the transportation and storage of hydrogen, and its delivery to aircraft at existing and future airports. “While our immediate focus is on sustainable aviation fuel, we also need to explore longer-term alternatives such as hydrogen to better understand the potential and seize opportunities,” explained CAAS Director General Han Kok Juan.
In the lead up to the air show, Airbus partnered with Korean Air, Seoul’s Incheon international airport, and French industrial gases corporation Air Liquide to explore opportunities and infrastructure requirements for hydrogen powered regional flights in South Korea. “The Asia-Pacific region will play a key role as we work towards making climate-neutral aviation a reality,” said Sabine Klauke of Airbus. “By partnering with Changi Airport and with Incheon Airport, Airbus will leverage the operational and technical expertise of two of the world’s leading hubs. The studies we will carry out together reflect the need for a cross-sectoral approach, including manufacturers, airlines, regulators, airports, energy providers and academia. We need bold and coordinated action to achieve our goals.”
For the first time in Asia, Boeing demonstrated its new 777X widebody jet, for which Singapore Airlines is an early customer. The airline announced at the show orders valued at $2.8 billion for 22 GE9X engines to power the 777X, which Boeing claims will deliver 10% lower fuel use and emissions than its competitors.
Embraer, Rolls Royce, and Norwegian regional operator Widerøe announced a 12-month partnership to study “a conceptual zero emission aircraft”, examining new propulsion technologies including all-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and hydrogen-fuelled gas turbine powerplants.
“Technological innovations can potentially enable clean and renewable energy to power a new era of regional aviation,” said Arjan Meijer, CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation. “The aim of our collaboration is to create new flight solutions that serve expanded market segments in a sustainable manner. I strongly believe this could lead to full sustainable connectivity, including very short haul intercity operations.”
Added Andreas Aks, CEO of Widerøe Zero, the air mobility incubator subsidiary of Widerøe: “Working with the world’s leading aerospace technology firms, our aim is to understand how a viable business can be built around zero emissions regional concepts, and to advise the manufacturers on operational requirements and customer expectations to design the best possible and sustainable air mobility service.”
Photo (Airbus): Static display at Singapore Airshow