IATA, the global trade association of the airlines, representing 83 % of all the airlines in the world, has a strong focus on carbon reduction. IATA is expecting the whole aviation ecosystem to participate in this mission. Member airlines have committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050.
IATA´s strategy requires a combination of various actions. According to IATA 65 % of the results would come from the SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel), 13 % from the new technologies like electric and hydrogen based energy sources, 3 % from the infrastructure and operational efficiencies, and 19 % from the offsets and carbon capture.
Despite the major challenges in the business during the past few years, aviation is still a growth industry in the long term. This is putting more pressure on reaching the sustainability targets. As sustainability actions are well understood within the industry, there are still big challenges in implementing the actions. The biggest challenge being money.
There is no simple way to finance sustainability needs
After the pandemic and in the politically unstable world the whole aviation industry has received financial injuries. The airlines have been forced to cut down flying, which means that revenues for the other stakeholders like the ground handlers, the airports or the air navigation services have gone down as well. In this ecosystem it is currently hard to raise prices since traveling has not recovered well enough.
All other sustainability actions, besides maybe operational efficiencies, typically cost money. SAF is three or four times more expensive than traditional kerosene. Even with kerosene, fuel costs are about 20 % of the airline costs and going for more sustainable aviation fuel mixtures would definitely add costs remarkably. Also, if new energy sources for flying, like electricity or hydrogen, would become a commercially viable option, it would mean investment needs for the airlines´ fleet.
Renewing infrastructure means not only new aircrafts, but also retrofitting existing ones or adding new solutions like winglets to them. On the airport and the ground handling side sustainability means investing in electric ground equipment or in future electric aircraft charging systems.
Offsetting or compensating carbon is a good thing, but not a big solution. Effective solutions come from the changes in the industry. Real sustainability is in the actions. Only actual changes lead to permanent results. Offsetting could bring net minus carbon results, but it also costs money.
Sustainability actions need to be communicated all the way to customers
The difficulty of taking sustainable actions shows in airlines press releases. They announce sustainable actions like saving fuel by carrying less weight and thus, sell only preordered meals or get rid of inflight magazines. This is of course sustainable, because less weight means smaller fuel consumption. But smaller fuel consumption means less costs as well.
When cost savings go hand in hand with sustainability, it is helping with sustainability targets. But this may create a worse passenger experience. Treating passengers as if they do not understand all the reasoning behind the actions is bad business. I recommend honesty.
All in all, even though the official IATA target is for the year 2050, faster actions are needed. All the stakeholders in the industry are working hard to find more sustainable ways of doing business and coping at the same time with the cost challenge. Finding financially more viable sustainable energy sources would cause a giant leap forward, but every small action leads in the right direction. Cooperation in the industry is definitely needed and all ideas are welcome. Especially if they also mean cost savings.