More than 20 aviation leaders in the UK have urged the government to invest in sustainable aviation technologies in order to achieve zero emissions flight by the middle of this century.

The group, which is made up of top executives of the country’s airlines, airports, trade organisations and other aviation-related companies including UK representatives from airframers Boeing and Airbus, on 16 November calls on the government to put “aviation decarbonisation at the heart of a green economic recovery” in the aftermath of this year’s coronavirus pandemic.

The ultimate goal is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, as public awareness of the industry’s impact on climate change grows, and with the so-called “flight shame” movement gaining momentum.

VistaJet_Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Source: VistaJet

UK aviation leaders call for investment in green technologies

“There is now a once in a generation chance for the UK to seize the opportunity to lead the world, both in delivering net zero flight, and to enable UK aviation to support our economic recovery through the high skilled jobs, supply-chain and export benefits that investment in new green aviation technology will bring,” the group writes in a letter to the prime minister. 

The group urges a three-pronged approach to build a broad-based innovative sustainable aviation industry in the country.

Lawmakers should facilitate the development of a domestic sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) industry by offering grants and loan guarantees. Up to 14 plants could be built to create fuels from household and industrial waste that would supply the country’s aviation industry by the mid-2030s. This could be a relatively quick win, the letter states. 

”SAF is essential as the primary and only envisaged pathway to decarbonise long-haul flight, and as existing technology can make a difference this decade,” the group writes.

In addition, electric, hybrid and hydrogen propulsion systems and aircraft development ”which have the potential to revolutionise regional and short-haul travel’ should be supported through the Aerospace Technology Institute, the letter states.

The third area of focus is to modernize the nation’s airspace so as to reduce inefficiencies and create more direct flight paths that will lead to lower carbon emissions.

Last week, Rolls Royce, whose chief technology officer Paul Stein is one of the letter’s 22 signatories, said that it will test a Trent engine with a fully-sustainable aviation fuel, marking the first time the engine manufacturer has used a fuel from 100% renewable sources.

Earlier in the month British Airways’ chief executive Sean Doyle, another one of the letter’s co-authors, said that sustainability is a “fundamental issue to tackle in terms of our right to operate” as the industry pulls itself out of the coronavirus-driven slump.

“People like flying, but they don’t like the carbon footprint from flying,” he said at the time.

Last year BA outlined an ambitious strategy to minimise its carbon emissions, which includes a net 10% reduction in CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre by 2025, a 20% cut in net CO2 by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

The broader aviation industry has committed to similar goals under an ICAO-led framework called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). That effort calls for the airline industry to cap carbon output at 2020 levels and to cut emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050.