Over 20 European aviation and travel associations have called for a joint commitment between industry and policymakers to achieve net zero CO2 emissions from all flights within and departing from the EU by 2050. As signatories to an ‘Aviation Round Table Report’, they have urged EU leaders to join and actively support an ‘EU Pact for Sustainable Aviation’ by the end of 2021 by contributing to a policy and financial framework they see as vital to enable the aviation sector to deliver on its sustainability commitments. The report details ways aviation can recover from the Covid-19 crisis whilst supporting the EU’s Green Deal objectives and build a greener, socially and economically robust future. These include an EU legislative framework on sustainable aviation fuels, funding and investment for low-carbon aircraft innovations and an incentive scheme for fleet renewal. The sector is also looking for EU aid in recovering from the pandemic.
“The European aviation sector believes that its recovery is fully compatible with, and should be accompanied by, broader efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, provided the right policies are in place,” say the authors of the ‘Aviation round table report on the recovery of European aviation’. “Therefore, the sector is committed to continue its efforts to reduce its negative environmental impacts, both locally and globally.”
However, they say, a bold strategy is firstly required for a sustainable recovery of the European aviation sector and to restore public confidence in air travel through effective coordination of travel restrictions and requirements by EU member states. The EU and member states should put in place a targeted European Aviation Relief Programme until the recovery of air traffic, advises the report, which the sector does not expect before 2024 or 2025. Support measures should aim to stabilise the sector and help prevent widescale loss of employment and air connectivity, it adds.
“The European aviation sector believes that its recovery is fully compatible with, and should be accompanied by, broader efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, provided the right policies are in place,” says the associations’ declaration. “Therefore, the sector is committed to continue its efforts to reduce its negative environmental impacts, both locally and globally. The latter implies in particular for all stakeholders and all policymakers to work together to achieve net zero CO2 emissions from all flights within and departing from the EU by 2050.”
The pact between the sector, stakeholders and government should chart a path towards the 2050 carbon neutral target with the aim of achieving significant emission reductions by 2030, in line with EU Climate Action objectives, states the document, and also consider the feasibility of making 2019 the peak year for CO2 emissions from European aviation, “while enabling the sector to continue delivering its social and economic benefits.”
The signatories say the pact should specify the supporting policy framework and financial mechanisms needed at EU level to achieve the goals. This includes an urgent need for a comprehensive EU legislative framework to promote the uptake and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as well as the establishment of a green incentive scheme for fleet renewal coupled with retirement, and an increase in public co-funding for civil aviation research and innovation in fields such as electric propulsion and hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Recognition should also be given to the revision of the Single European Sky and the continuation of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) alongside the global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation.
A comprehensive SAF framework with a dedicated stable set of policy measures and public investment plans to boost European production and uptake would help accelerate aviation decarbonisation and contribute towards achieving the EU’s 2030 climate goals, say the report’s authors. Particular attention should also be given to the medium- and long-term potential for synthetic fuels to be scaled up.
Subject to meeting strict sustainability criteria, they say measures should include:
- Public investment (including possible ownership) in SAF production facilities enabling the necessary de-risking required to debt finance projects as well as the execution of offtake contracts with aircraft operators;
- Support to private investment in SAF production, for example through grants and/or loan guarantees;
- Support to R&D in new SAF feedstock and production pathways.
The industry also advocates a progressive EU-wide blending mandate that would enable the European aviation sector to gradually increase the use of SAF, based on strict sustainability criteria, without compromising its competitiveness.
The report estimates around 780 aircraft in European in-service fleets could be “early retired” and replaced by more modern and efficient aircraft, which it says has the potential to save up to 50 million tonnes of CO2 up until 2030. Fleet renewal coupled with retirement could be maintained through the implementation of a corresponding temporary and airline/aircraft operator non-market distorting co-financing EU incentive scheme, it recommends.
“Such a scheme could be a win-win for all stakeholders in the aviation ecosystem as it will help the aviation sector to recover from the Covid-19 crisis. Most importantly, it would have important environmental benefits in the short term.”
On market-based measures, the report says policymakers should ensure the continuation of aviation’s inclusion in the EU ETS and reforms to the scheme should be done in a complementary way to CORSIA, while avoiding distortion of competition for European aviation. It also calls for revenues collected through ETS allowances be ring-fenced and reinvested into aviation decarbonisation, for example through R&D funding or financial incentives to the deployment of SAF. By 2050, to achieve the net zero target, the report envisages any residual aviation emissions being removed from the atmosphere through offsetting involving natural carbon sinks, for example forests, or dedicated technologies such as carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).
The report also recommends industry and governments should work together to facilitate multimodal choices of passengers to support the most efficient journeys across an integrated transport system and include multimodal ticketing and distribution. It also has proposals on the local impacts of aviation such as noise and air quality.
The drafters of the report included ACI Europe (airports), A4E (airlines), ERA (regional airlines), ASD (aerospace), CANSO (air traffic management), ECA (pilots) and ETF (transport trade unions).
One of the 20 signatories to the report is campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E), a longstanding critic of efforts so far to decarbonise aviation.
“We haven’t always been best friends with the aviation sector but we have signed this joint roundtable report,” said William Todts, President of T&E, during a session at this week’s virtual ACI Europe Congress and Assembly. “It wasn’t an easy decision but I genuinely believe there is a big opportunity to build back better. The airline industry is in a big crisis. It will ask and get additional support and we can use this as an opportunity to do much better.
“But we need to be clear what a sustainable recovery is and what it is not. It is not a return to 2019 with similar levels of growth, add a bit of biofuels and CORSIA, and it’s done. We’re looking for the type of change that’s taking place in the automotive industry where they are completely changing their factories, retraining their people and investing billions of euros. That’s what we are going to have to see in the aviation industry but I’m really hopeful that the sustainability pact that we are jointly calling for will create a framework and set ambitious goals. We all need to work together.
“There are three elements that are very important. Firstly, it is essential we scale up clean new fuels and we need to focus on those fuels that are sustainable and scalable. First generation biofuels are not sustainable and the problem with advanced biofuels is they are not scalable, so we need to focus on those we can scale up, such as e-fuels. This will save us a lot of trouble down the road. Secondly, we need a lot more innovation in this sector. It’s exciting that Airbus are promising us hydrogen aircraft by 2035 but we don’t have any means to hold them accountable. That’s not the way it works in the automotive sector – targets are set and binding. Thirdly, we will need to have a discussion about tax. It’s going to be hard to have untaxed fossil kerosene in a net-zero world.
“There has been a lot of fighting between civil society and the aviation industry but we now have an opportunity for the industry to emerge very differently from this crisis. It’s going to be a big change.”
The European Commission’s Executive Vice President, Margrethe Vestager, said the report provided important food for thought both for immediate issues and forward-looking challenges.
Added Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean: “I welcome this report from the aviation sector and civil society on what is needed to rebuild passengers’ trust, and for the recovery of this hard-hit sector, which remains critical for global supply chains and people’s mobility. It offers a vision of how to make the sector stronger, more sustainable and more forward-looking than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic. I applaud the commitment to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, and the proposal to create a pact for social sustainability. This is fully in line with our ambitions for the future growth of the EU.”
In the UK, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week unveiled a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution to help achieve the government’s net-zero emissions by 2050 pledge. One of the 10 actions is to support difficult to decarbonise industries such as aviation through research projects for zero-emission planes. The government recently set up a Jet Zero Council with high-level representatives from the sector.
Ahead of the government announcement, the industry coalition group Sustainable Aviation had called for support in three areas it considered critical to achieving net zero flight: the delivery of a UK SAF industry; making electric, hybrid and hydrogen powered aircraft a reality through the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute; and the completion of airspace modernisation. Targeted loan guarantees and the provision of capital grants would be critical, they said, to delivering first-of-a-kind SAF plants that could lead to up to 14 UK plants generating sustainable fuel from household and industrial waste by the middle 2030s.
Welcoming the government plan, the Chair of Sustainable Aviation, Adam Morton, said: “It is particularly encouraging that Jet Zero is identified as one of the priority areas. Through this investment and the work of the newly formed Jet Zero Council, UK aviation has the potential to lead the world in developing and deploying cutting edge technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel.
“SAF technology is available now, can be used in existing engines and aircraft, and its production overlaps strongly with the regions that have been earmarked for hydrogen and CCUS projects. However, follow-up action is needed urgently to stimulate the required private sector investment and remove obstacles to deployment. Over the longer term, these synthetic fuels will be joined by electric and hydrogen propulsion as part of a package to deliver net zero flight.”