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Aviation technology and the energy transition: How are we going to adapt?

Aviation technology and the energy transition: How are we going to adapt?

From left to right: Johan Lundgren, CEO easyJet, Arjan Meijer, CEO and President Embraer Commercial Aviation and Patrick Ky, Executive Director EASA

How will the aviation sector adapt in light of new fuels and evolving aviation technology? This was the key question addressed in the afternoon discussions at the EUROCONTROL Aviation Sustainability Summit.

European airports, their infrastructure and their commitment to sustainability are going to play a crucial role here. ACI Europe DG Olivier Jankovec stressed the commitment of European airports to decarbonise as manifested in “Destination 2050 – the common European aviation industry roadmap to achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050”. He also highlighted the success story of ACI’s airport carbon accreditation programme:

Olivier Jankovec

“182 European airports covering 71% of European passenger traffic are part of the programme and work on reducing emissions. 46 airports are already carbon-neutral and a further 96 are committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”

Olivier Jankovec Director General ACI EUROPE

Aviation leaders share insights into their decisions to make aviation sustainable

Asked by aviation journalist Cathy Buyck about when to decide on future aircraft powered by sustainable power sources such as hydrogen or electric, CEO of low-cost carrier Wizz Air József Váradi said:

Wizz Air CEO József Váradi

“The best technology is the technology that is available. We have decided to innovate with what is on the market now.”

József Váradi Chief Executive Officer Wizz Air

Váradi referred to Wizz Air’s recent order of up to 196 Airbus A321 aircraft. He said:

“Almost the entire industry stepped back from investment during COVID-19. We kept investing into aircraft, into markets and into people. Decarbonisation will happen on the basis of technology.”

However, he also explained that Wizz Air is sharing its operational experience with Airbus in an ongoing pilot project on hydrogen technology.

“We are absolutely committed to innovation”

he said mentioning also close cooperation between EUROCONTROL and Wizz Air to optimise operations – especially continuous descent operations to reduce emissions.

Are SAF the answer to the question how do we decarbonise aviation?

''There is no doubt SAF in the form of e-fuels will play a significant role in the mid to long term for mid-haul to long-haul flights.” “For easyJet, SAF are an important interim solution in our decarbonisation pathway, while we are supporting the development of zero-emission technology such as hydrogen, which will be the most sustainable solution for short-haul networks such as our own in the long term”

Johan Lundgren CEO, easyJet

“However, biofuels based on feedstock is not the sustainable, long-term solution. We have to move to the more efficient e-fuels such as power-to-liquid. My concern is that if we set up capacity and supply of biofuels that does not remove the resources to set ourselves up for e-fuels.”

Johan Lundgren CEO, easyJet

Arjan Meijer, CEO and President of Embraer Commercial Aircraft, sees SAF as one of the solutions the aviation sector needs to embrace to reduce emissions. Embraer’s product segment is in aircraft with up to 150 seats – a segment he reckons will see change first:

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)

SAF are a cleaner substitute for fossil jet fuels. They fall into two categories: biofuels or synthetic fuels. Biofuels are produced from biomass (e.g. plants and wood products) or residues (e.g. used oils and waste). The latter are more sustainable and address the ethical concern of competition within the food chain of local populations (e.g. crops). Synthetic fuels - also called electrofuels, efuels or power-to-liquid (PtL) - are produced from two basic ingredients: carbon dioxide and water, but require large amounts of electricity

“We recently revealed our Energia family of sustainable aircraft, inviting partners and customers around the world to join the challenge to meet net zero by 2050. We are also working on an eVTOL, and we believe we could see smaller electric or hybrid aircraft by 2030.”

Arjan Meijer Chief Executive Officer and President, Embraer Commercial Aircraft

Moderator Andrew Charlton wondered about the combination of all these technological solutions and put the question to Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA): “Are we going to have airports that will need to provide SAF, electricity, hydrogen and conventional fuel to aircraft?”

EASA currently certifies engines to operate using up to 50% of SAF blended with conventional kerosene. Patrick Ky said:

“It would create complexity for sure. The difficulty is on the side of the supply chain and logistics, and how to provide SAF to different types of users. I am not even talking about the supply chain of hydrogen, which would have to be completely different in terms of volume and safety procedures. There would be risks, there would be complexity, but these are technical issues that can be solved.”

Patrick Ky Executive Director European Aviation Safety Agency

For EASA, it is clear that in order to assess any risks that may come with the use of hydrogen technology, the expertise and knowledge about hydrogen need to be built up.

What’s the European Commission’s view?

The proposals of the European Commission’s Fit for 55 package that directly concern aviation received strong attention during the Summit debates. Henrik Hololei, Director-General of DG MOVE, European Commission, welcomed the aviation industry’s commitment to innovation, and IATA’s resolution to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He agreed with other Summit speakers that SAF should receive high priority as one of the viable solutions to reduce significantly emissions from air traffic:

Henrik Hololei, Director-General DG MOVE, European Commission

“We very much rely on fuel producers to deliver SAF. This is a challenge for the aviation value network. Every component has to deliver to make the sector more sustainable.”

Henrik Hololei Director General DG MOVE, European Commission

Hence, the pressure of the Commission’s SAF mandate proposal is on the fuel producers:

“I believe in the market. If it is economically viable, there will be many producers. With our proposal I think the signal to them is there.”

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