A significant shift away from fossil fuels, the introduction of radical new technology, and continued improvements in operations will all be vital.
Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group, Michael Gill said: “A decade ago the aviation industry became one of the first to commit to a long-term climate action plan. We are now able to provide detailed analysis of different pathways to achieve the goal of halving net aviation CO2 emissions by 2050 and, with the right support from governments and researchers, be on our way to net-zero emissions a decade or so later.
“We should be under no illusion that the decarbonization path for aviation is an easy one. Without the off-the-shelf technology available to most other parts of the economy, reaching our climate goals is going to be a significant challenge. But our Waypoint 2050 analysis shows that decarbonization is possible, and in a number of different ways. We now need the commitment from governments, the energy industry, researchers and from the aviation sector itself to make it happen.”
New technologies such as radical aircraft designs, and electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft are expected to enter the fleet around 2035-2040 for short-haul flights. Operational improvements such as more efficient air traffic management and better use of existing aircraft will also play a fundamental early role and help reduce emissions further. Most importantly, a near-100% shift to sustainable aviation fuels will be required to meet the industry’s climate goal.
“For sustainable aviation fuel in particular, we need support from governments in the next decade to help set the stage for the future of low carbon connectivity,” said Gill. “These new fuels are already flying today – over 270,000 commercial flights have taken off so far – but are still a tiny part of our overall fuel mix. We know that we can begin the energy transition away from fossil fuels in earnest, but we need support from governments to do so. Importantly, we know that this new fuel can come from completely sustainable sources and there is enough of it available without impacting on land or water use.”
The industry believes that with the right support from governments, net-zero CO2 emissions from global air transport may be achievable by 2060-2065, but it is likely that some regions will be able to meet this goal earlier. A number of individual airlines and companies in the industry have already set themselves net zero targets.
The Waypoint 2050 analysis does not rely primarily on market-based measures such as offsets to pursue pathways to decarbonization. However, it is likely market-based measures will be needed in the long term to deal with any remaining CO2 emissions or as sustainable aviation fuels ramp up.