Sustainable aviation delivery will be ‘painful’, Abta warned

The aviation industry faces the “pain of delivery” on decarbonisation with huge costs and significant barriers, but a failure to deliver risks an end to growth in travel.

That is according to Andy Jefferson, consultant to the Sustainable Aviation industry coalition, who told an Abta Aviation Forum in London: “Decarbonisation will have cost impacts, and these will be passed on to consumers.”

Speaking ahead of the government’s confirmation of its sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandate on Thursday (April 25), Jefferson insisted “we have a plan” but said: “We’re at the start of the pain of delivery.”

He outlined the mix of measures – more efficient flying, modernised airspace, fleet upgrades, SAF and, from the mid-2030s, new aircraft and new fuels such as hydrogen, electric engines and ‘power to liquid’ or e-fuels.

But he noted an Iata study calculated the cost of decarbonising the industry at $5 trillion and the EU estimated aviation decarbonisation costs in Europe at €2 trillion, and asked: “How do you secure that funding?”

He said: “We’re at a really early stage [and] it’s a 25-year journey when investment generally works on a 12-month cycle.”

Jefferson told the forum: “We’ve got to get into delivery and it’s painful because it involves spending.”

He noted Sustainable Aviation’s net zero plans assume 14% of the sector’s targeted reduction in emissions by 2050 will come from reduced demand due to the costs of decarbonisation increasing fares.

The government insisted it is “ensuring decarbonisation doesn’t come at the expense of consumers” when it issued its SAF mandate, noting: “The plan includes a review mechanism to help manage prices and minimise the impact on ticket fares.”

However, this just relates to UK SAF production which is likely to be a fraction of the total, with airlines having to purchase SAF wherever they fly.

Sustainable Aviation’s net zero roadmap envisages SAF accounting for less than 40% of the targeted emissions reductions at best and the cost impacts on fares it forecasts are based on the total cost of decarbonising flying.

Jefferson outlined significant barriers to progress – including access to feedstocks for SAF, the need for infrastructure to supply hydrogen and other fuels, and securing industry access to costly ‘carbon capture’ technology – which aims to remove carbon from the atmosphere and bury it below ground.

However, he identified “the two biggest challenges” as securing long-term investment and the non-alignment of energy, transport and net-zero policies around the world.

He said: “We need energy networks to decarbonise all around the world and net-zero policies to support that all around the world, and at the moment they are not linked up.”

Highlighting the risks, Jefferson said: “If we don’t deliver, either we can’t grow or flying becomes prohibitively expensive. That is where we’ll could end up if we don’t deliver on this.

“We need to fix the investment – 25 years is not a long time.”

Jefferson acknowledged criticism from environmental NGOs that the industry is not moving fast enough but said: “The challenge is increasingly the consumer [attitude].

“At what point does that move from ‘I’m broadly OK with flying’ to ‘I’m not OK’.”

However, he expressed confidence in the industry’s ability to meet the challenge, saying: “One hundred years ago we didn’t exist. There is no limit to our ability to solve the problem.

“The financial investment and the scale are the key challenges. How do we unlock the investment to unlock the technology?”

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