UK’s leadership in sustainable aviation technology accelerates industry’s transition to net zero

Aviation Environmental Climate solutions Technology

Sustainable Aviation publishes updated Net Zero Carbon Road-Map, but highlights UK’s position at risk without targeted Government support.

  • The updated Road-Map confirms that UK aviation can continue to grow whilst meeting its commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, reflecting advances in sustainable aviation technology already delivered in the UK which will accelerate the industry’s transition to net zero around the world. This includes the production of sustainable aviation fuel on the Humber, its use in the world’s first 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight, and the world’s first run of a modern engine on hydrogen.
  • These advances have made the UK a global leader in sustainable aviation technology, creating an opportunity to establish Britain as the home of a low carbon aviation industry – creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions in inward investment. In 2023, the world’s first net zero transatlantic flight will take off from London to New York – using solely sustainable aviation fuel.
  • However, the aviation industry warns this opportunity is at risk without Government support and calls for an industry funded price support mechanism – building on the independent report for the Government carried out by Philip New – to help secure private investment in UK sustainable aviation fuel plants. Without urgent Government action the UK risks losing an industry estimated to support 60,000 jobs and be worth around £10bn in GVA benefits by 2050.

Today, at the Sustainable Skies World Summit at Farnborough, the UK aviation industry has announced higher ambition in its transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with the publication of an updated Net Zero Carbon Road-Map, reflecting advances in sustainable aviation technology made here in the UK.

The Road-Map is published by Sustainable Aviation – the industry coalition of the UK’s leading airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers, air service navigation providers, and innovation companies in sustainable aviation fuel and carbon removals – and is an update to previous plans published in 2020 and 2021. It highlights the vital role and potential for SAF and zero carbon emission technologies such as hydrogen powered aircraft and carbon removal technologies, together with the immediate advances being made in modernising airspace to help UK aviation reach net zero by 2050.

The UK is the global home of innovation in sustainable aviation, and has delivered a number of world firsts, including:

  • Since 2021, NATS has implemented nine airspace modernisation changes including the first UK implementations of Free Route Airspace and systemisation, saving more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 per year; and made changes to the North Atlantic track structure saving almost 1m tonnes of CO2 per year
  • In November 2022, the RAF and industry partners carried out a world-first 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight using a military transporter aircraft – an RAF Voyager.
  • UK SAF production started last year on the Humber by Philipps 66 Ltd, with at least eight more producers planning plants in the UK, with the right Government incentive policies.
  • Last November Rolls-Royce and easyJet achieved the world’s first run of a modern aircraft engine on hydrogen.
  • In January 2023, ZeroAvia conducted the successful first UK flight of a 19-seater Dornier 228 with one of the two engines running on hydrogen fuel cells.

Later in 2023, the world’s first net zero transatlantic flight will take off from London to New York – using solely sustainable aviation fuel.

As a result of these current and future advances the UK aviation industry plans to reduce its carbon emissions by almost 70 MtCO2 to meet its net zero targets, with:

Two measures accounting for around three quarters of aviation’s journey to net zero:

  • 4 Million Tonnes of carbon dioxide(MtCO2) saved from sustainable aviation fuel
  • 6 MtCO2 saved by burning less fuel due to better air traffic management and operating procedures and the introduction of known and new, more efficient and zero carbon emissions aircraft.

The remaining 18.4 MtCO2 will be achieved through permanent carbon removals, and also slightly lower growth due to the decarbonisation cost impact on passenger demand, for example through the higher cost of SAF and compliance with global and regional carbon trading and offsetting schemes like CORSIA and EU ETS.

The Road-Map models the reality that the increased cost of decarbonising aviation will inevitably reduce passenger demand. The demand reduction due to the costs of decarbonisation represents around 14 percent of the industry’s reduction in CO2 emissions. However, this modelling also shows that, even with slightly higher costs, people still want to fly, with overall growth in passenger numbers of almost 250 million by 2050.

The UK has the right conditions to lead the world in developing sustainable aviation technologies like SAF and zero carbon emission hydrogen-powered aircraft. It has the third-largest global aviation network, a world-leading aerospace and aviation sector, and geographical advantages in both renewable energy generation and carbon capture capacity.

However, the industry warns that this leadership and the opportunity to make the UK home to a low carbon aviation industry is at risk. Without urgent Government action the UK may miss out on these industries of tomorrow.

Today more than ever, the UK is competing in a global race to capture private investment that will drive development of the technologies to power net zero and create the jobs of the future. The US has passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars in incentives for low-carbon technologies, including SAF and hydrogen production, and the EU is distributing billions of euros in carbon allowances to help subsidise the higher cost of SAF for its airlines.

With further targeted policy support in partnership with the Government, the UK can reach net zero and ensure the country captures the full economic benefits of this technological revolution.

The aviation industry is calling on the Government to work with it by:

  • Maximising short-term operational efficiencies by accelerating the UK airspace modernisation programmewith completion by the end of the decade. This includes reviewing the governance and processes for the programme, looking at how these can be streamlined in order to speed up delivery, and considering whether a different funding model could bring the delivery date forward.
  • Delivering commercial UK Sustainable Aviation Fuel production at scale this decade, meeting the Government’s commitment to seeing five UK SAF plants under construction by 2025, by providing an industry-funded price stability mechanism alongside a SAF mandate, whilst prioritising access to UK sustainable feedstocks.
  • Investing in zero carbon emission flight technology by uplifting matched funding levels to the Aerospace Technology Institute programme through to 2031 – to drive efficiency improvements and the development of zero carbon emission technologies, alongside investing in UK hydrogen supply.
  • Addressing residual aviation carbon emissions by accelerating the rollout of carbon removals, including them in the UK ETS scheme and ensuring aviation’s fair share. 

Delivering accelerated progress towards a UK-wide net zero CO2 emission future requires aligning all of Government on a strategic plan, to ensure sufficient low carbon electrical and hydrogen generation is in place, to meet the increased energy demands with UK aviation receiving its fair share alongside other industries. Sustainable Aviation forecasts that UK aviation will require a maximum of an additional 147 TWh in additional renewable energy need, set out as follows:

Topic 2050 Forecast UK Aviation Renewable energy demand to deliver net zero carbon emissions
Hydrogen and electric aircraft 63 TWh
Power to liquid SAF 50 TWh
Carbon removals 34 TWh
Maximum additional renewable energy need 147 TWh


Matt Gorman, Chair, Sustainable Aviation, said: “This is the critical decade where aviation must prove it will decarbonise. Our updated Net Zero Carbon Road Map shows that we have a clear, credible path to take the carbon out of flying. Through a combination of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, more efficient aircraft and airspace, zero emission planes and carbon removals, we can protect the huge benefits of aviation for future generations without the carbon cost. 

“But we’ll do it faster, and create more jobs and investment in the UK, with the right policies, working in partnership with Government. The US and Europe are surging forwards in the race to create new industries in sustainable aviation fuels and technology. The UK has all the natural advantages to be able to join them – but we need to move quickly.

“An agreed mandate for SAF as soon as possible and a price support mechanism – building on Philip New’s independent report for the Government  – are key policy areas where we can act now to gain a share of the huge prize of making Britain the natural home of net zero aviation.”