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Business aviation: A test bed for sustainability innovations

Business aviation

Business aviation manufacturers and operators are in a strong position to decarbonise their flights due to their possibilities of investing in sustainable aviation fuel and latest aircraft technology.

It is a fact little known to the public that most environmental innovations are tested by business and general aviation before being scaled up for commercial aviation. In partnership with mid-size airports, business aviation represent a fair part of the European sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) pioneers.

To significantly and quickly lower net lifecycle carbon emissions, SAF is a must

“SAF is a key component, accessible today, to deliver business aviation’s decarbonisation programme. To support that element, elevate its importance to the sector and enable early adoption, the sector created the Business Aviation Coalition for SAF, which has produced educational material, held events, and worked with key stakeholders to drive forward the increased uptake of SAF.”

Athar Husain Khan Secretary General, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA)

Business aviation operators use SAF in partnership with airports such as Bristol, Biggin Hill, Caen-Carpiquet, or London Luton, as the EUROCONTROL SAF availability map indicates. Given the relatively limited availability of SAF, the Fueling the Future guide encourages business aviation operators to pursue innovative measures such as ‘Book-and-Claim’. Under this programme, they can purchase SAF at an airport where it is unavailable, and receive a credit for its supply and use at an airport where it is available.

Ready to adopt ATM optimised measures for flight efficiency

The business aviation fleet is made up of very modern aircraft, highly maneuverable and with the latest avionics. Business jets can climb very fast to their cruising level at high altitudes, therefore freeing airspace for general traffic and reducing the traffic complexity induced by the changes of flight level, especially at peak hours. This optimises trajectories and consequently reduces fuel consumption for both business and commercial aircraft. In the landing phase, thanks to recent avionics – such as satellite EGNOS-based equipment – business jets can perform more precise navigation and more direct trajectories towards an airfield. The EBAA is also advocating further ATM improvements to reduce noise: business jets could easily accommodate increased glideslopes when landing, therefore flying all along the track at a higher altitude, resulting in reduced noise.

“General aviation is the cradle of innovation for aviation.”

Most environmental innovations are tested out by business and general aviation before being scaled up for commercial aviation.

“The general aviation manufacturing industry is at the forefront of developing technologies that result in more efficient wing, rotor, fuselage, systems and engine design as well as furthering revolutionary innovations like hybrid, electric, and hydrogen-powered aircraft. These technological advancements, some of which are already flying in Europe today, are progressing our industry’s sustainability commitments towards decarbonisation.”

Kyle Martin VP European Affairs, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA)

Optimal visibility for approaches is an example of innovation serving the environment. The Head Up Display (HUD) combined with an Enhanced Vision System (EVS) makes direct landing possible in all weather conditions. This avoids the unnecessary fuel consumption that results from maintaining extended holding patterns until weather conditions and visibility improve. Winglets illustrate perfectly the pioneering role of business aviation in flight efficiency: the first flight of a commercial aircraft with winglets was performed by a highspeed business jet, the Learjet 28/29, and it took place back in… 1977! Looking further into the future, active winglets – i.e. winglets using load sensors and a camber surface, which automatically control wing bending during turbulence – offer promising perspectives, with efficiency gains up to 33% and unsurpassed climb performance.

Light aviation can already offer 100% electric flights for training today

The first fully electric aircraft to be type-certified in Europe by EASA in July 2020 is the Pipistrel Velis Electro. This battery-powered plane, produced by Pipistrel, a Slovenian company, is a small two-seater, intended for training pilots. It produces few emissions and low noise (<60Db), and is an economically viable solution that can help accelerate the environmentally responsible transition of light aviation in Europe. Big orders like Green Aerolease’s decision to purchase 50 Pipistrel Velis Electro, with plans to deploy 200 more within 3 years, show the market appetite for this new direction.

Hydrogen-powered aircraft: an emerging true zero-emission technology

In September 2020, ZeroAvia achieved the world's first hydrogen fuel cell-powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft. This technology results not only in true zero-emission flights but also in lower fuel and maintenance costs. ZeroAvia is now expanding its Hydrogen-Electric Aviation Program to a 19-seat aircraft, pushing further the limits of this promising technology. Both these projects exemplify the scope for innovation general aviation is capable of, as it continues to lead the way for other aviation sectors.

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Boosting sustainable aviation fuels: the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal

The ReFuelEU Aviation proposal is a clear signal to both the aviation and the energy sector, that EU policy-makers take the increased uptake of sustainable aviation fuels by 2050 seriously. In one of EUROCONTROL's recent sustainability-themed Stakeholder Forum webinars, Flor Diaz Pulido, Head of Unit Aviation Policy, Directorate-General Mobility and Transport, European Commission, said:

“We have had an economic and a regulatory issue: there is not enough demand because the prices were too high and there is not enough supply because there was not enough demand. Horizontal approaches have not worked until today due to the specificities of the aviation market, highly integrated and in need of very specific kind of liquid fuels. This is why we have come up now with a sectoral approach, to reach a strong business case for decarbonising aviation and producing SAF.”

Stakeholder Forum

Watch our Stakeholder Forum on SAF

Exploring the huge potential of SAFs for driving down aircraft emissions, whilst enabling business to grow sustainably.

Looking to ramp up the production, deployment and supply of affordable, high quality sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in Europe, the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal would require fuel suppliers to blend an increasingly high level of sustainable aviation fuels into existing jet fuel uploaded at EU airports, including a minimum share of synthetic fuel (see chart on SAF share mandates).

There will also be an obligation on all airlines (EU and non-EU) departing from EU airports to uplift the jet fuel necessary to operate the flight prior to departure, to avoid fuel tankering. The proposal targets the cleanest advanced biofuels and novel electro-fuels, which meet the sustainability criteria set in the Renewable Energy Directive. It also calls for Member States to introduce penalties on aviation fuel suppliers and aircraft operators in case of non-compliance. To complement these measures promoting SAF, the European Commission announced it would create a zero emission aviation alliance by the end of 2021 to ensure market readiness for disruptive aircraft configurations (e.g. hydrogen, electric).