The UK’s Jet Zero Council met for the very first time on Wednesday (22 July) to discuss wide-ranging plans to "decarbonise" the UK’s embattled aviation sector.
Unveiled last month, the council will bring together ministers, airline chiefs and investors to collectively define and plot a course for the sector’s future.
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, and Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, were among attendees, along with Sustainable Aviation chair Adam Morton.
Members will explore how the sector can be placed on a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly footing through the introduction of new aircraft and engine technologies, as well as synthetic and sustainable aviation fuels, and eventually, development of electric aircraft.
It comes after the UK committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and ensuring a "green recovery" from the coronavirus pandemic.
The government has pledged £350 million to assist initial efforts to cut carbon emissions, which prime minister Boris Johnson said would help "pave the way for the first ever zero emission long hail passenger flight".
Weiss said aviation would play a vital role in rebuilding the UK economy post-Covid. "It is our responsibility to ensure this recovery is as sustainable as possible," he said.
Virgin Atlantic has committed to bringing forward retirement of some of its older, less fuel-efficient aircraft and by 2022, simply its fleet to comprise 36 wide-body twin-engine aircraft flying from Heathrow and Gatwick, where its operations are paused while retaining its slots, to its "most popular destinations".
"The next step change will come from sustainable aviation fuel," Weiss added; Virgin is working with LanzaTech to develop a viable sustainable aviation fuel, which is hopeful of building a sustainable fuel plant in the UK "by the mid-2020s".
Lundgren said easyJet was committed to collaborating on developing "radical" new technologies, "electric and hydrogen", and to being an early adopter when they come to market.
"In the meantime, we are already the first major international airline to offset carbon emissions from the fuel used on every plane we fly – and we want to challenge the whole industry to follow so all of aviation can be carbon net zero now."
Morton said the creation of the council was a "major milestone" in the UK’s efforts to decarbonise aviation.
"Inclusion of a wide range of expertise from Sustainable Aviation members is particularly encouraging," he said.
The Sustainable Aviation coalition in February pledged to support efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and has set out a decarbonisation roadmap.
“It is exciting to see establishing UK production facilities for sustainable aviation fuels is a priority for the Jet Zero Council," Morton added.