Airlines 2050: ‘It’s carbon that’s bad, not aviation’

Watch representatives from IATA, Flight Global, IAG, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport, TUI, Emirates, Air Transport Action Group and the Airport Operations Association as they discuss ambitious carbon reduction targets, “beautiful fuel”, electrification, becoming the “most loved” travel company, plus what the future of aviation will look like

Held against a backdrop of climate change protests across the globe. the Airlines 2050 conference organised by Flight Global considered what the future of flight might look like.

Representatives from some of the world’s biggest airlines, government departments, airports and industry associations all attended the conference which set out the look at the role of the UK aviation industry. Topics discussed at the event included biofuel electrification, runway expansion and technological advances.

Short term uncertainty, long term confidence

Conference chair Max Kingsley-Jones Executive Director Content, Flight Global recognised the challenges ahead: “There’s uncertainly at the moment because of the current political situation but there’s also a lot of confidence for the long term.”

“There’s some short term pressures that have come up several times already today around environment, around taxation and around the general state of the economy, both on the national level and on a global level and what impact that can have on the business or on passengers and the number of travellers.”

Brian Pearce Chief Economist IATA, said the industry was essential, with faster connections playing an enabling role for the wider economy: “Good air transport connections between cities is essential for the modern economy. Businesses rely on getting components and skilled labour and investment from overseas and vice versa.”

IAG to bring “beautiful fuel” into production

With climate change and ‘flight shaming’ seen to be among the biggest challenges for the industry,

BA outlined their plans to beat the 50 per cent reduction in emissions target with plans to reach net zero emissions by 20250

Sustainable Fuels and Carbon Manager for BA’s parent company IAG, Leigh Hudson explained that the technology to convert waste into biofuels was now beginning to be implemented through smaller projects, converting problem wastes into high value fuel.

“I call it a “beautiful fuel,”” said Hudson. “It burns very cleanly and achieves the carbon reductions that we want.”

BA and Shell are awaiting planning permission for a site in the UK which will enable them to produce “beautiful fuel” in the early 2020s.

Carbon ‘is bad’, not aviation

Karen Dee CEO Airport Operations Association said it was important to gain a sense of perspective of the real issue with emissions. She said: “We need to remember that it’s not aviation that is the bad, not flying that is the bad, it is carbon that is the bad.”

“The key challenge for us is making sure that we can find innovative ways of decarbonising aviation and at the same time, continue to deliver a really good service to our passengers, people visiting families, people going on holidays, people travelling for business. That’s really important for us to continue being the global trading nation that we are.”

Aviation transformation: biofuels and electric engines

Michael Gill Executive Air Transport Action Group explained that the aviation industry was the first sector to outline ambitions targets of cutting emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 and was committed to taking a responsible approach to get there.

But Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airlines, warned it would be decades before technological advances would replace fossil fuel to power long haul flights. He said an A380 flying 17 hours with 55 tonnes of payload on board being powered by an electrical propulsion would not happen “in my lifetime.”

He cautioned that the “large step changes” in biofuel or electricfication which were required may take a few decades to implement.

Virgin Atlantic bids to become “most loved travel company”

Virgin Atlantic is undergoing a massive fleet transformation to reduce its carbon footprint by 2024. CEO Shai Weiss said this would be followed by a move towards sustainable fuel and through meaningful offsetting projects. He said:“If you want to become the most loved travel company you must be an excellent custodian of the environment.”

But Dawn Wilson, MD of TUI, said charter and leisure flights would still continue as people sought new cultural experiences, destinations and special family time.

Wilson said care had to be taken to ensure there was no “overtourism” and the operator had created the TUI Foundation to work with different environments: “It’s looking at how we can work with local environments to manage tourism in a sustainable way by giving something back.

Heathrow heads for zero emissions

Chris Annetts, Expansion Commercial Director, Heathrow Airport said the third runway expansion had been the topic of much debate. The Airport has also committed to a target of zero emissions by 2050. Annetts said: “The world is changing very fast and sustainability is becoming more and more important for everybody.”

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