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EUROCONTROL’s Aviation Sustainability Summit: How is European aviation planning to decarbonise?

Aviation Sustainability Summit - Morning panel

At EUROCONTROL’s Aviation Sustainability Summit in November 2021, aviation leaders shared their insights on just how European aviation plans to deliver on the European Green Deal goals, and how they see transport and mobility evolving in the years ahead.

Following EUROCONTROL Director General Eamonn Brennan’s thought-provoking introduction, Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary kicked off the morning sessions with a presentation on Ryanair’s strategy for sustainability, stressing that to reduce the environmental impact of aviation, Ryanair is counting on new technology:

How is European aviation planning to decarbonise?

"We regard ourselves as one of Europe’s greenest, cleanest airlines but we are not content with that. We continue to invest and improve. We are investing heavily in new technology. We are spending $ 20 billion over the next five years taking delivery of 210 new Boeing 737 MAX which will reduce fuel by 16% and cut noise by 40%.”

Michael O’Leary CEO, Ryanair Group

In addition, Ryanair Group has set itself an ambitious target aiming to reach 12.5% use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2030. Michael O’Leary agrees that climate taxation is necessary but he sees as a key regulatory shortcoming that European governments have not committed to investing tax revenue into decarbonising aviation through promising solutions such as SAF:

“In 2019, we paid 613 million EUR in environmental taxes for the Emissions Trading System. Not one cent was spent on environmental measures.”

He also regrets the lack of progress on the Single European Sky, and thinks that European governments should agree to allow Europe’s air traffic control providers to compete against each other:

“If Europe is serious about reducing the environmental footprint of aviation, deregulate Europe’s ATC providers. If one ANSP is not capable of providing a service, allow the others to do it for them. We estimate that would reduce fuel consumption between 10 and 20%.”

Aviation’s biggest challenge: becoming climate-neutral

Ryanair’s commitment to the potential of sustainable aviation fuels was echoed by the speakers that followed to discuss Europe’s role as a global leader for aviation sustainability: Lufthansa’s Chief Customer Officer Christina Foerster, IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh and environmental NGO Transport & Environment represented by William Todts.

Asked about the best solutions to decarbonise aviation, Christina Foerster said:

“Using the most efficient aircraft available and investing in SAF – especially advanced SAFs, but also looking at ways to make aircraft lighter, using Sharkskin technology and optimising operations.”

Christina Foerster Chief Customer Officer, LUFTHANSA GROUP

Lufthansa Group has been Europe’s largest purchaser of SAF this year, and recently announced their plans to acquire at least 25,000 litres of Power to Liquid fuel (PtL) annually over the next five years and make it available to customers. So far the Group has already offered customers the possibility to purchase SAF through the Lufthansa compensation platform Compensaid to offset the CO2 emissions of their air travel.

Christina Foerster

William Todts welcomed the dialogue that was made possible at the EUROCONTROL Aviation Sustainability, stressing that decarbonising aviation is “a challenge that can only be solved collectively with the support of governments”.

However, he urged caution to his co-panellists on seeing the attention aviation has received from climate change campaigners largely as a PR problem, saying:

“The reason why emissions from aviation need to be addressed is because aviation is one of the few sectors that is consistently increasing its emissions. That’s why you are in the spotlight. Your emissions have to go down. Anything else is not acceptable.”

William Todts EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TRANSPORT & ENVIRONMENT

In his view, SAF is the sole solution that can not only reduce CO2 emissions but also tackle non-CO2 emissions. While sustainable aviation fuels have considerable advantages such as being able to be used in existing airport infrastructure and significantly reducing emissions, SAF come with a hefty price tag. As Christina explained, “currently SAF is five to eight times as expensive as kerosene. E-fuels are considered to be 15 times as expensive as conventional kerosene.” Putting that on a long-haul flight would result in a very high ticket price which may cause European passengers to reconsider their travel options and make it likely that they transfer at one of the Eastern hubs such as Istanbul or Dubai to a non-European flight that does not charge for blending in SAF.

Willie Walsh agreed with Christina on SAF as the priority solution to decarbonise:

Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA and William Todts, Executive Director of Transport & Environment

“If we can significantly upscale the production we will get a lower cost. It will be at a premium to kerosene today, but we can deal with this as an industry.”

Willie Walsh Director General, IATA

Quoting Etihad’s recent plan to fly on 50% SAF from London to Abu Dhabi, Walsh highlighted that “the demand for SAF is already there today, but it is simply not available. They were only able to get to 38%. The airline industry is committed to improving the environmental footprint. There is no question about it that we have to do it.” IATA’s members recently committed to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.

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