The Covid crisis will not derail the airline industry’s attempts to become more sustainable, a World Aviation Festival panel has concluded.
Airlines in the UK have set a target to become carbon neutral by 2050, while the industry as a whole has a goal of halving Co2 emissions by then.
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s director of sustainability, said: “Six months ago I would not have put money on climate being as high profile as it has, (but) there are real positive signs.”
KLM’s sustainability vice-president Karel Bockstael said rebuilding the industry after the pandemic “would be by decarbonisation”.
“A lot of older fleet will be parked and stakeholders have changed dramatically – a lot of airports and airlines are dependent on investors.” These stakeholders, he said, included governments, whose aid packages demanded some form of greener practices.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) would play a big part, the panel agreed. Gorman said SAF was key to the 2050 targets, with alternatives like hydrogen and electric power not feasible by this deadline.
“We have got to develop a ‘drop in’ low carbon fuel,” he said. “The key thing is the significant production of SAF.”
The panel agreed government mandates and price incentives were needed to speed the adoption of SAFs. Gorman suggested raising APD and giving rebates to airlines.
Shell’s global aviation president Anna Mascolo said other alternative energy sources, like wind and solar power, had been successfully subsidised by governments when first introduced.
Lars Andersen Resare, SAS’s head of environment & CSR said there could be no going back to old standards.
“I think the future customer will want a much more sustainable product. If we can’t deliver, either they will not choose us at all, or some regulators will tax us out of the sky.”
However, Heathrow’s Gorman said: “I’m not sure we’ve seen that shift yet. 2019 was ‘peak climate’ with Extinction Rebellion protest and school closures, but it was also our busiest year.”
The discussion ended with an online poll, with 76% saying the industry was not losing its sustainability focus.