Sky-High Costs of Carbon Removal to Take a Toll on Air Travel Demand

UK Aviation Industry Foresees Drop in Passenger Numbers Due to Decarbonisation Costs

The UK aviation industry has acknowledged that the cost of decarbonising flights will impact passenger numbers. A new report by Sustainable Aviation, an alliance including airlines, airports and manufacturers, stated that measures such as making sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) widespread will put some people off travelling. The Net Zero Carbon Road Map published by the alliance insisted that “people will still want to fly” despite “slightly” higher costs. Annual passenger numbers are still expected to grow by nearly 250 million by 2050. However, aviation must prove that it will decarbonise, according to Matthew Gorman, Sustainable Aviation’s director of sustainability.

The report stated that the use of SAF could make up at least three-quarters of all aviation fuel for UK flights by 2050, with the majority of it produced in the UK. SAF is produced from sustainable sources such as agricultural waste and used cooking oil. It reduces carbon emissions by up to 80% compared with traditional jet fuel but is currently several times more expensive to produce. Gorman said that new technologies such as SAF will have a “green premium before the market scales up and costs fall”. He added that there will be some additional costs for those who choose to fly, but that most people are happy to pay a bit more to travel, and that they value being able to travel.

The UK government has an ambition for at least five commercial-scale SAF plants to be under construction by 2025. The government has invested money in the development of the sites and proposed that airlines operating in the UK must ensure SAF makes up at least 10% of their fuel by 2030. The Jet Zero Council, made up of industry, academic and government leaders, will meet at Farnborough Airport on Monday to devise a two-year plan to accelerate the production of SAF by investing in plants, supporting scientific research, and driving down production costs.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper will deliver the keynote speech at the Sustainable Skies World Summit, also being held at Farnborough Airport on Monday. He will say that the government is a determined partner to the aviation industry, helping accelerate new technology and fuels, modernising their operations, and working internationally to remove barriers to progress. He added that together, aviation can be set up for success and continue harnessing its huge social and economic benefits, ensuring it remains a core part of the UK’s sustainable economic future.

Sustainable Aviation fears that “significant incentives” in the US and the rest of Europe designed to lure investors in SAF production are putting the UK at risk of missing out. It wants the government to introduce a mechanism that would reduce the difference in price between SAF and traditional jet fuel. Gorman said that the US had introduced a whole series of tax incentives, which had pretty much closed the price gap with kerosene. He added that if investors were looking to invest in a SAF plant, they would go to the US rather than the UK. He said that if the UK wants to establish a leading position, it needs the right policies to get there.

Gorman said that this is the critical decade where aviation must prove that it will decarbonise. The updated Net Zero Carbon Road Map shows that there is 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, aviation can protect the huge benefits it provides for future generations without the carbon cost.

On Monday, the Royal Air Force (RAF) will operate its first flight with passengers onboard fuelled by a SAF blend to demonstrate its ability to use greener fuels once they become more widely available. A Voyager aircraft will depart from its Brize Norton base in Oxfordshire and conduct an air-to-air refuelling sortie over the North Sea to provide a SAF blend to other RAF aircraft. It will then fly past the Sustainable Skies World Summit before returning to Brize Norton.

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