Aviation’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and biofuels, which are expected to account for 25% of all jet fuel by 2050, were just a few of the topics discussed during the recent Global Sustainable Aviation Summit in Geneva.
However, arguably the overriding message to emerge from the annual Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) organised event was for the need for even greater collaboration between industry stakeholders, airport communities and governments across the world going forward to ensure the long-term future of aviation.
And, as ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, pointed out in the ‘Reflections’ session at the end of the summit, ‘sustainability’ is all encompassing and not just about CO2 emissions.
Gittens said: “From an airport point of view we are really dealing with a whole range of sustainability issues and I’m glad to see that some of them, such as land use planning, has been covered here and is now getting global attention.
“Airports are in the strange position of being global entities, but they are really local entities and can be brought to their knees by local issues.
“We are neighbours to surrounding communities and have to engage with them and the market where we exist as we cannot leave the market and find a better one. So, we have to solve problems and not be the problem in our local areas.”
Having said that, she noted that she was particularly proud of airports’ efforts to reduce their CO2 emissions through ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, particularly as it was “happening in places that it wasn’t required”, and this ensured that many airports were ahead of their governments in showing environmental leadership.
During his opening address, president of the Council of ICAO, Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, praised aviation’s commitment to the environment and the success the industry has achieved in persuading the world’s government to join the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for international aviation (CORSIA) from its outset in 2021.
To date 72 countries, representing almost 90% of international flight operations, have agreed to join the initiative, which he admitted had “exceeded our expectations”.
“CORSIA isn’t just important for the aviation industry, it is important for the planet. It represents a very important milestone for air transport, and indeed for the entire world given that it is the very first commitment of its kind for any global industrial sector,” he said.
In his keynote address, Ovais Sarmad, deputy director executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), spoke about the economic and social importance of aviation, praised the industry’s ability to adapt, innovate and change, and warned that it will face many challenges ahead, possibility the biggest of which is climate change.
“Our goals are to achieve carbon neutrality in the middle of this century, to reduce our carbon footprint. In effect, to do nothing less than reverse the impact of 100 years of emissions in less than half that time,” stated Sarmad.
“Our opposition is time. To put it simply, we no longer have the luxury of it. Gone are the days when we’d speak of climate change in terms of some day this could happen or maybe we should do something tomorrow.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tomorrow is today and climate change is happening before our eyes, and the action we take within the next five years will determine whether we are successful or not.”
Talking about the growing impact of climate change on the planet, he said: “From every continent in every corner of the world we read and hear devastating stories about those who have suffered from extreme climate events. There has been a huge cost to these events, and they cannot be measured in any numbers.
“NASA recently reported that the first half of 2017 was the hottest year on record. The previous hottest year was 2016. This is unacceptable and we must do something about it.”
Biofuels came under the microscope in a session called ‘Taking alternative energy to new heights’, in which IAG’s group head of sustainability, Jonathan Counsell, stated that biofuels could account for 25% of jet fuel by 2050.
There have now been well over 40,000 commercial flights operated on sustainable fuel, and Counsell noted that although IAG’s customers are increasingly calling for the introduction of biofuels, he felt that they might not be so keen if it led to an increase in the price of a ticket.
He revealed that IAG has been looking at biofuels for the last eight years and its commitment to the cause recently led to it unveiling plans to open a waste jet fuel plant in the UK a partnership with Velocys.
However, he insisted that the airline group was very clear that it would not and could not pay a premium for alternative fuels as fuel today typically accounted for between 30% and 40% of an airline’s costs.
The panel also included San Francisco International Airport’s chief administration and policy officer, Julian Potter, and Geneva Airport CEO, André Schneider, who outlined their biofuel plans and ambitions for their respective gateways.
Geneva’s Schneider told the summit that although his airport had no direct control over how jet fuel is sold to the airlines, he hoped that biofuel would account for at least 1% of the annual jet fuel consumption at his gateway from late 2018.
“We don’t really want to leave it to whether airlines choose to take renewable fuel or not as we know the higher price of biofuel will mean that it will be used on some flights, but not all,” said Schneider.
“We have, therefore, decided to add a fixed percentage of biofuel to all the fuel supplied at Geneva Airport. The figure will start at 1% and the airport, supported by the government, will pick up the difference in costs.
“This means that the whole process will be totally transparent. The airlines will get their fuel from the same companies that supply them now and they will not pay a cent more for it.”
Also on the panel were James Andersen, business director for green fuels and chemicals at Honeywell UOP; and Dr Bruno Muller, managing director for fuels at Fulcrum Bioenergy.
Both agreed that the lack of funding was proving a huge challenge to the development and commercialisation of biofuels.
“Financing is the hardest part, technology is available, feedstock is too, but it’s putting everything together,” said Miller.
“So, eventually you need a business case for investment and for that you need private institutions to invest. But for that you need a stable policy environment – It’s important that policies for 10-15 years stay the same.”
All the panellists agreed that the industry needs to work in partnership in order to break aviation’s reliance on fossil fuels and cut CO2 emissions in the air transport sector.
In a brief presentation, Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s director general, revealed that 199 airports, which account for around 40% of the world’s traffic, are now accredited under ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme.
The total includes 35 airports that are carbon neutral, and such has been the success of the programme that ACI Europe has now doubled its carbon neutrality target and is committed to achieving 100 carbon neutral airports by 2030.
Day 2 of the summit started with a presentation about a potential game changing form of transport called the Hyperloop, which could make all other modes of travel redundant in the future by making it possible to cover hundreds of kilometre distances in minutes rather than hours.
The technology, which is being developed today, involves passengers travelling at high speeds in pods inside a sealed tube or system of sealed tubes, revealed Hyperloop One’s senior vice president of global field operations, Nick Earle.
He suggested that there is even talk of opening one between Amsterdam Schiphol and Lelystad airports in the Netherlands and believes that the new technology could become operational by as early as 2023.
Earle was followed by a quick fire panel principally made up of aircraft manufacturers and engine suppliers who took on the topic of how technology is going to allow the aviation industry to achieve its goal of halving CO2 emissions by 2050.
Next up was a panel discussion called ‘The big picture and future challenges’, during which London City Airport’s CEO and ACI World chairman, Declan Collier, stated that he thought that the rise in protectionism and protectionist government policies across the globe posed a very real danger to the future success of aviation.
He also cited “remaining relevant to the communities that we operate within” and “continuing to attract the right type of resources and talent, in a world which has lots of different opportunities for people to build careers” as other major challenges facing the industry.
The conference ended on a high note with the ‘Reflections’ panel where ACI World’s Gittens and other leaders of key aviation industry associations gave their thoughts on the lessons learned during the summit.
Giving his thoughts during the session, IATA director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac noted: “The sustainability development goals have shown us that aviation must have a broader vision than simply carbon emissions and noise mitigation.
“CORSIA is a major achievement but we, the airlines, must now focus and be ready and prepared for its 2020 implementation. The development of sustainable aviation fuels is also a critical issue and it is important that we meet our goals and reduce our carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.
“In this regards we say that the development of aviation fuels must be given the same incentives as alternative fuels in other sectors and we urge government to do that. We will also focus on using alterative fuels that will not disturb the ecological patterns, and what is encouraging is that we see that this is possible.”