Sustainable Aviation Fuels

Speech by Michael Gill, Executive Director, Air Transport Action Group

3 October 2018, Geneva

The penultimate session at this conference is about a topic that is of vital importance to the industry’s fight to reduce our climate impact: sustainable aviation fuel. Although our collective efforts here may only bear fruit in decades to come, this is an area where we actually need to make rapid progress, and we need to make it now.

We have come a very long way since the first flight on sustainable aviation fuel in 2008. And the topic continues to make headlines. United Airlines undertook a special flight two weeks ago from San Francisco to Zurich. JetBlue and Airbus collaborated on a delivery flight 10 days ago. And just a couple of hours ago, we received this video message from London.

[Virgin Atlantic CEO re: LanzaTech flight]

A number of airlines have taken a strong lead in this area and put significant resources into their projects. We should pay tribute to them for driving ahead with these important investments and commitments. We call these the leading edge of the new energy revolution and I would like to commend all their work to drive the industry forward.

But the time has come for us to go even further.

We know that the rest of the world is looking at ways of actually decarbonising the economy. After the Paris Agreement, many countries are actively looking at policy proposals in this area and later this week we’ll have the results of an IPCC study on how the world can meet the 1.5 degrees aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement. Whole industries are being re-formed. At least eight countries have announced or are looking at ways to phase out fossil fuel car engines.

With our global goals, aviation is also taking responsibility… but it is clear we need to move further and faster. With a growing world population in areas that are eager to travel and see the world, we will need to go further than technology and operations alone.

Sustainable aviation fuels are going to be the deciding factor in allowing aviation to continue our sustainable growth journey in the long term. I don’t overstate the issue in saying that this is as important to us as the creation of ICAO was to enable the global air transport system to develop.

Last year, the ICAO Alternative Fuels Conference in Mexico heard that, we could see 2% of all aviation fuel coming from sustainable sources by 2025. That will likely be around seven billion litres of fuel. We are within touching distance of that figure and it is achievable.

So here is a challenge. Getting to 2% of the fuel supply by 2025 will require huge commitment all round.

• It will need more carriers to follow the example of those airlines which have made significant forward purchases of sustainable fuels and investments in this new energy source.
• We need governments to stand up and be counted. Supporting the development of sustainable aviation fuel as a priority should fit very well alongside the electrification of much of the ground-based transport system. But we do need government help with policy to de-risk initial investments; assistance with expertise and financial support for the vital technical certification process for these new fuels; and to make sure greener air transport is seen as much of a priority as green ground transport.
• We need the academic community to continue investigating new sources of fuel and new production processes. Ensuring that sustainability is truly top-of-mind as we move into this new energy space. That means no use of fuels from sources which deplete the natural environment or which compete with food for land or water.
• And we need our traditional fuel suppliers to put some of their resources into the fuel that we want to buy for the next century. And this is a type of energy that does NOT come from under the ground. Aviation has been a loyal customer for a hundred years. Don’t force us to abandon you by not planning for the future.

We believe that at around 2% of the global fuel supply, a tipping point will be reached where the flow of SAF can start sustaining itself economically and generate the much-needed momentum to propel this to be our main energy source by 2050. Supply at that level will set us on course to remain an industry that connects the world for decades to come.