Sustainability makes business sense for air cargo

Sustainability is a key issue for the entire aviation value chain, including air cargo.

It is important, of course, in its own right. But there is also good business sense in pursuing a green agenda. A panel on the issue at the World Cargo Symposium pointed out that sustainability is affecting buying behaviors. Shippers and freight forwarders—like passengers—want to know that the airline they select is doing its best to reduce carbon emissions.

“Addressing sustainability is about gaining a commercial edge as well as the right thing to do,” said Martin Drew, Etihad Cargo.

Aircraft are the biggest component in air cargo’s carbon emissions, especially as there is still a sizable percentage of older generation models in the global fleet. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF)—predicted to make up as much as 65% of the industry’s net zero 2050 goal—will therefore be vital.

The problem is the lack of SAF availability. In 2021, every drop of SAF available to airlines was snapped up and the same is expected to happen in 2022, even though SAF are up to three times the price of kerosene.

Many observers feel that SAF are caught up in a chicken and egg dilemma. They are expensive because supply is limited. This dampens demand, which in turn keeps supply limited and the price high.

Neste, represented by Jonathan Wood on the panel, is trying to break the mold. Wood revealed that the company will increase SAF production 15-fold by the end of 2023. Even this is just a drop in the ocean, however, and the entire industry must bet involved in SAF to increase the momentum.

Aside from production capacity, a plentiful supply of the right feedstocks and a supportive policy framework are essential. Where the latter is in place, such as California, SAF are not much more expensive than Jet A1. But there is little consistency among the regions.

All panellists agreed that the aim to produce 30 billion liters of SAF by 2030 is extremely ambitious.

Offsets are another area being scrutinized by air cargo customers. Some are skeptical of their efficacy, but the Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) has some of the toughest eligibility criteria in the sector.

Even so, Wood insisted that the industry must be seen to take responsibility for its own emissions and that net zero is not end goal. The ultimate aim, he said, is the regeneration of the entire ecosystem.

One tool that will help is the recently announced CO2 calculator for air cargo. Etihad Airways has begun trialing the product.

Beyond carbon emissions, sustainability covers noise, single use plastics (SUP), and other particulates among much else. A lot of airport restrictions are driven by noise and air quality, for example. And Etihad plans to reduce SUPs 80% across is entire operation. In air cargo, this will begin with a reduction in the amount of plastic sheeting being used.

The panel conclude by noting that decarbonization is a global issue and needs a global solution. But the industry must move faster and be bolder in its ambition while retaining a realistic appraisal of aviation’s abilities.

Change will be driven by customers insisting on green credentials and shippers and freight forwarders will be important catalysts in this respect.


The Panel

Moderator: Katherine Kaczynska, IATA

Zak Or, Challenge Group

Jonathan Wood, Neste

Martin Drew, Etihad Cargo


Credit | iStock