Climate-conscious air travel is a subject that has seen significant importance throughout the years. Not only is it safer for the environment but also helps in raising awareness of the potential climate issues that may rise from aircraft technology.
Jane Ashton, director of sustainability for easyJet, expressed that the aviation industry needs a radical change.
Following the innovations of the automobile industry, airlines are now relying on modern technologies to replace conventional carbon-emitting fuels for alternate sources such as hydrogen, electric, or hybrid fuels. Low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel or SAF is no exception.
SAF is a selection of biofuels produced by renewing biomasses and waste products. According to Ashton, “We believe SAF will be an interim solution, bringing emissions down before short-haul aviation can transition to zero-carbon-emission flying.”
These alternate fuels along with construction of new aircrafts that can utilize them are initiatives that will help the airline industry to fulfill an important deadline established by the United Nations scientists: Reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Otherwise, a livable climate will be lost.
As of now, SAFs account for less than 1% of current global aviation-fuel use.
Sustainable aviation fuels demand extensive work before it can shift into being a practical option for the aviation industry. According to Valerie Reed, acting director of the bioenergy technologies office of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in addition to costing 4 times more than conventional jet fuel, the technology required to constantly manufacture these fuels remains barely economically sustainable.
For Naveed Hussain, the chief technology officer at Boeing Research & Technology, aside from resources and funds, various elements such as incentive programs, stable government policies, access to capital that will enable fabrication of sustainable fuels, and larger production capacities are required to raise the production scale of SAFs.
Meanwhile, chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce PLC Paul Stein expressed that the need for making sustainable fuels can be compared to the demand for vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic: Though not entirely plausible, Stein believes the comparison is possible.
Dan Rutherford, aviation director for International Council on Clean Transportation, also said alternative fuel technologies such as hydrogen may demand the industry to incline more on a longer-term zero-emissions strategy. This is because SAFs are short on supply considering that alternative fuels are difficult to manufacture. These fuels also demand high expenses, airline tax credits, and heightened government assistance that cannot be attained in a short period of time.
Air travel is an essential aspect of globalization. Demand for air services while maintaining sustainability goals continues to intensify throughout the years. The airline industry, which is responsible for 2.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, has been considered as the most difficult to decarbonize.
During the recently held Leaders’ Summit on Climate led by the U.S. President Joe Biden, 40 world leaders expressed their commitment to prioritizing the carbon issue of the industry. Majority of all aircrafts are currently utilizing fossil fuel-powered aviation fuels.
In response, the pressure that has been placed upon governments and climate leaders cultivated the ultimate goal of creating 2 possible emissions saviors that can unveil environmental opportunities: Sustainable aviation fuel and lower carbon aviation fuels. The former modulates overall aviation fuel carbon intensity while the latter lessens the presence of greenhouse gasses.
When blended as low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel, production of these fuels opens up economic opportunities that can reduce the following:
As of this writing, the size and weight of current battery technologies are restraining commercial electric-plane development. Because of this, the industry can only produce small-scale aircrafts that can function in short distances. This is a stepping stone for many airlines because it can help facilitate new and short-haul routes for travelers.
Some of the airlines that are currently participating in the modern technology campaign are the following:
During an announcement in May 2022, Hawaiian Airlines established a collaboration with Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport or REGENT with the purpose of constructing electric seagliders that can accommodate up to 100 passengers by 2028. Electric seagliders are hybrid vehicles that combine the functionalities of a plane and a boat but are intended to work only on water with a registered maximum distance of 180 miles.
Swedish start-up company Heart Aerospace partnered with United Airlines to provide 100 electric planes that can house 19 passengers. United plans to fly these planes on short domestic routes by 2026.
The airline also signed a purchase agreement with Boom Supersonic, an American company producing supersonic airlines. According to the agreement, United will acquire 15 of Boom Supersonic’s Overture planes that are wholly operated using SAFs.
Following on the trend of zero-emission fuel technologies, EasyJet, a European-based airline, expects to cater to passengers via zero-emission aircrafts by mid-2030. To fulfill this, the airline cooperated with multinational aerospace corporation Airbus, luxury automobile manufacturer Rolls-Royce, American startup Wright Electric, and several others. EasyJet is also the first airline to incorporate a 30% SAF blend in London Gatwick Airport’s planes.
After setting one of the world’s longest-haul flights from New York to Auckland into motion, Air New Zealand intends to prioritize the industry’s sustainability by the year 2050. As of this writing, the airline is coordinating with Airbus and Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR in hopes of accommodating vehicles that can accomplish the zero-emission strategy with the use of alternative fuels.
Singapore Airlines has been engaged in pioneering SAFs since 2017. During the earlier quarter of 2022, the airline was the first to sign the Global SAF declaration, an agreement that aims to capitalize on the importance of alternative fuels. Following this, Singapore launched a pilot program that will run for one year and will employ a blended SAF mixed with refined jet fuel in flights from Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Public reactions demand not only the cleanliness, safety, and sustainability of the automobile industry but also the aviation industry. Old and new barriers prove to be challenging for the consistent development of aircraft technologies that aim to cancel the greenhouse gas emissions of planes.
However, the aviation industry must know what it takes to bridge the gap between the situation now and the planned outcome: Apply a realistic approach to an ambitious goal.
Though sustainable aviation fuels may take years to develop, as long as there is a clear goal and blueprint established, it is only a matter of time before an effective climate-conscious air travel is set to action.
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