‘Apply some pressure’: Business aviation leaders push for support on sustainable fuels

Business aviation is all about efficiency – and now that’s being applied to fuel too, as pressure mounts on the aviation industry over climate change.

Industry experts at the recent Fuelling the Future event argued that the technology and the will for business aviation to go greener are already in place. However, it was also clear that more external support is required and companies will need to put their money where their mouths are in delivering and implementing new technologies.

Ahead of EBACE in Geneva last month, industry leaders gathered at TAG Farnborough Airport to discuss the adoption of sustainable aviation jet fuel (SAJF) in Europe. Twelve business jets then flew on to EBACE using SAJF, making up the total of 23 that travelled to Geneva using alternative fuels.

FINN talked to attendees at Farnborough to find out more about how they’re leading the charge for greener travel, as well as the challenges they face.

Political support

Business, aviation was the first sector to sign up for emission reduction targets. These include a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency per year from 2010 until 2020; carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards; and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, relative to 2005.  However, more needs to be done to support this, experts say.

Eamonn Brennan, Director General, Eurocontrol (an intergovernmental organisation for air traffic control), said: “We've got some significant issues facing European aviation. The key one is the CO2 emissions, and [we need to take] some significant regulatory action. 

"[This includes] supporting sustainable fuels and looking at a better reorganisation of the European air traffic network to make sure that we're flying optimal flight profiles and using the airspace in an efficient way. [Without that], we're not going to achieve our targets.”

Is it realistic that we will see that change?

Brennan said: “At the moment, we're doing 37,000 flights every day in the European network. I believe that to get to our target, which is about 55,000 by 2030, we've got to do significant things and governments have got to work with us.

"They need to support aviation and support the environment, and they need to stop placing national interests ahead of the overall interests of the use of the European network."

Grant Shapps MP, the chair of the All- Party Parliamentary Group for General Aviation is optimistic the UK will back the plans.

“I think the country wants to move in that direction, and aviation and business aviation are going to have to follow,” he said. “We know the technologies are coming about, some fuels are available [which are] certainly greener than exists today. And there's a lot more research."

"The government needs to be proactive about this," he noted. "In the same way as government has put programmes in place [around] the artificial intelligence that will drive the cars of the future, government also needs to take a really active interest in [greener aviation], and that is what the All-Party Parliamentary Group is doing. We want to see aviation and business aviation green, quieter and letting off less CO2.

"Government is going to have to help to make that happen faster.”

New fuel

Innovations in jet fuel include fuel produced from sustainable sources such as used cooking oil, plant oil or other forms of waste which can be upgraded into jet fuel components.

Tom Parsons, Air BP biojet commercial development manager, said: “For the long term, we need to scale an awful lot. There's already several thousand tonnes being produced a year at the moment. Over the long term, we're trying to get to around 30% of all aviation fuel by 2050, which is a huge scale-up."

He added: “I would say we do have supply and we're ready for the demand to come through now. As more operators become aware of the opportunity that there is with sustainable aviation fuel, and the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint by up to 80%, we'll really start to see that demand come through.”

Cost

However, a major challenge – for now at least – is that sustainable jet fuels are more expensive, costing up to three times more. Is that sustainable?

Parsons said: “The cost is higher. That's for a number of [reasons]  mainly because the feedstock is more expensive than crude oil, and the capacity that we have today to turn that into jet fuel is at a smaller scale or less technologically developed than the existing oil refining industry. So as it stands, it's probably not sustainable.

"However, things will improve over time, as feedstock becomes more available and we find new sources. As the technology improves and the investment comes through to really scale up that production, I think there's a place for companies like BP in that production space to leverage the refineries that we already have, and to look at new businesses in that space as well.”

Availability

Business aviation leaders are confident that private jet owners and operators will be prepared to pay more, but they need availability.

Athar Husain Khan, Secretary General, European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), said we need “a bit more market pressure on the system”.

He explained: “I would expect and hope that operators would put a bit more pressure on fuel suppliers and manufacturers to actually produce more of the fuel and have a more appropriate geographical spread. In addition to that, I'm convinced that the business aviation community and industry would be very willing to pay slightly more for the fuel than conventional fuel.”

Manufacturing advantages

The manufacturers are even seeing the advantages of using sustainable fuels.  For David Coleal, President, Bombardier Business Aircraft, the transition is simple.

“In theory and in practice, there's no difference,” he said. “And that's the beauty about this,  from a safety perspective, from a performance perspective, it's the same as Jet A-1, but with [fewer] emissions.”

He added: “And what we're seeing is it actually performs better than Jet A-1.”

The need for speed

The international coalition of operators, manufacturers and fuel companies working together demonstrated that there is a genuine belief in the role business aviation has to play in making our skies greener.

Coleal said: “If we can do what we said here – increase the demand, increase utilisation – by definition, we will make it. The challenge we have is to make sure that the supply and the utilisation of SAJF is adopted rapidly because what we don't want to do is get so far behind that the adoption rate is slower than we want, impacting the end target.

"We want to be carbon neutral in 2020, with a reduction by 2050. That's why we're so emphatic about starting now – [driving] the awareness and then ultimately the adoption of this."

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