Getting aviation ready for a fossil fuel free future

Environmental Sustainable fuels

Ahead of the UN Climate Summit tomorrow, the aviation sector held an event to mark the use of sustainable alternative fuels in air transport. This came on the day that Finnair announced a flight on used cooking oil to New York, to take place tomorrow. Below is an extract of the speech given by ATAG Executive Director Michael Gill at today's event.

"As world leaders walk through the security barriers into the United Nations tomorrow, they will be looking at how all parts of the economy can work to do their part in reducing emissions. The fact that so many business leaders are joining governments tomorrow shows the important role that the private sector will play in responding to the climate challenge.

As an industry that has taken an early and aggressive approach to dealing with its climate responsibility, and as a sector which is growing to meet the connectivity needs of economies and society all over the world, we hope that they will be able to use our announcement and climate action commitments, particularly on sustainable alternative fuels as a small example of what could be achieved with the right support. You can read about our commitments on this website.

A number of countries are now openly talking about building fossil-free economies by the middle of this century. That is 35 years away. There will probably be a number of announcements in that regard tomorrow. It is technologically possible, of course, to decarbonise electricity production, cars, heating and other uses of energy. Political will is what is needed to achieve that monumental, but necessary, shift.

With the efforts being made by many of our industry partners, we could be well on our way to making our own contribution to a fossil fuel free future too. There is some extraordinary work taking place across the world to make sustainable alternative aviation fuels a reality.

Whilst we look at the potential source of fuel, we urge all parties to ensure that aviation takes a responsible approach to this new energy source and avoids fuels from non-sustainable sources. We are encouraged by the options being researched currently, such as waste streams and non-edible crops. Our forests and our farmlands will be vital natural resources as the planet nears nine billion people, so they too must be protected.

Whilst airlines are eager to start using this new fuel source, the commercialisation is taking place slowly, with alternative fuels currently costing a lot more than traditional jet fuel.

Some airlines have taken a leadership role and have agreed to pay the difference in order to help kick-start this new fuel source with significant investments in forward purchasing. But we must look to governments to provide the necessary boost to help us on the way to the long-term use of alternative aviation fuels, for example:

  1. Ensure a ‘level playing field’ with other users of alternative fuels, which often have policy advantages that mean it is more lucrative for feedstock to be used in, for example, road transport than aviation.
  2. Help by de-risking the investment needed for new sustainable aviation fuel infrastructure – often investors need some level of policy signal to help construct refineries and other infrastructure.
  3. In the long-term, more holistic government thinking about the best use of energy resources in each individual country – for domestic electricity, road transport, rail and domestic heating. Some users, such as aviation, should be prioritised to use high-energy liquid fuels. The key is that this thinking needs to be done now, before the next generation of cars is produced and the next new power plant is built.

Aviation is a force for good in the world. We help economies develop, provide over 58 million jobs and support vital connectivity as the world becomes culturally and economically interdependent. As the founding document of the International Civil Aviation Organization says, aviation “can greatly help to create friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world”. What was foreseen 70 years ago is made true today, with over three billion passengers a year flying for business, pleasure, to see family and friends and to access the entire world.

We are determined as an industry to ensure that remains true, well into the future, and I thank all our colleagues across the sector for helping to make sure that we can continue to provide the benefits of air transport, and minimise the environmental impacts."

  • This is an extract of a speech given by ATAG Executive Director Michael Gill at an aviation industry side event on alternative fuels the day before the UN Climate Summit in New York.