The president of Emirates Airline says governments have gone “too far” in terms of mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which could end up costing passengers.

Speaking with Australia’s Sky TV, Tim Clark says government mandates that a specific percentage of airlines’ fuel uplift be SAF by a certain date will create problems. 

Emirates A380 SAF trial

Source: Emirates Airline

In late 2023 Emirates operated an A380 partly powered by 100% SAF

“This stick approach, in my view, is not the way to get us across the line with SAF,” says Clark.

“Today, the airline community to a man would be using SAF if they could. We’re equally concerned about the environment.”

Clark notes that there is insufficient investment going into refining capacity for SAF. Moreover, the cost of feedstocks is high, as well as the opportunity cost involved in creating feedstocks, such as using arable land to produce SAF that could otherwise be used to produce food.

Clark estimates that SAF represents just 0.1% of the fuel used in aviation, and that demand for air travel continues to grow, pushing up fuel requirements.

He warns of a situation where governments fine airlines for failing to use the mandated percentage of SAF, fine airports for not providing SAF facilities, and fine energy producers for failing to produce it. Ultimately, this cost will be borne by passengers.

“We need to face the reality of what we can do,” says Clark.

“Technology is moving at pace, particularly in power to liquid hydrogen and all the other bits and pieces, but whether that’s going to deliver on the timescale that everybody aspires to, it’s a question of the science, the scalability, and the investment that comes from both governments and the private sector.”

He calls for investment in things that will provide “some modicum” of SAF, but “really the future is determined by technology that looks at alternative means than what we’re doing.”

During the interview Clark also touched on the situation facing Qantas in Australia. The Australian carrier, a long-time partner of Emirates, suffered a series of public relations snafus in 2023. 

Clark feels that former chief executive Alan Joyce, who stepped down in 2023, was “doing quite a good job”, which included guiding the carrier through the coronavirus pandemic, when Australia’s borders were all but entirely shut.

“And now we have a new leadership team in Qantas who are laser focused on placating the concerns of the travelling public in Australia, and restoring the brand to its former glory by doing the basics that people want,” says Clark.