The need to decarbonise will “cut through everything” amid the recovery from Covid, say aviation industry leaders.
Meeting in London on Monday at the Airlines 2021 conference the sector’s leaders spent little time debating pandemic recovery and focused on sustainability.
Iata UK country manager Simon McNamara pointed out Iata members “committed to net zero by 2050” at the association’s annual general meeting in October, noting: “The previous target was a 50% reduction by 2050. That is a major leap forward.”
UK Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK) chief executive Dale Keller said: “Sustainability is going to cut through everything. We need the government to be more open. The engagement came too late in the pandemic. This is going to take the best brains we have and people tend to come and go in government, but in aviation they stay. I would like the government to better harness the expertise in the sector.”
Keller argued: “We have a massive communications job ahead. Aviation is still presented as being much higher up the pollution scale than it is. Some airlines seem to think ‘Do we really want to talk about this’. Carbon offsetting still has very negative connotations.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade described the government’s pledge last month of £180 million to stimulate production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as “good seed money”. But he said: “It won’t get us to where we need to be. A SAF plant costs £500 million and we want two or three by 2025.
“To get beyond 10% SAF [use] in 2030 we need funding of hydrogen [fuel] and electric aircraft. It’s going to be difficult.”
Dr Rannia Leontaridi, director of aviation at the department for Transport, told the conference: “£180 million may not be a significant amount but it’s a sign of commitment.”
Aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts insisted: “We support building a world-leading SAF industry. Our approach focuses on the rapid development of technology while maintaining the benefits of air travel.”
Iata director general Willie Walsh agreed: “The UK is probably ahead of the pack on SAF. [But] we need to de-risk investment in SAF. The best thing the government could do is work with the industry to scale production of SAF.”
Alderslade acknowledged: “We’re in a much better place. We have a plan now for getting to net zero by 2050. At Cop26 we weren’t the pariahs we used to be. We could walk down the corridor without being booed. But there is a no guarantee we can do this.”
He said action “between now and 2030 will be really significant. If we can’t get SAF working and can’t modernise air space we won’t convince people [we can be net zero by 2050].
“To an extent we’re losing the PR war, but the point is other industries will decarbonise quicker than aviation and aviation emissions will continue to rise.”