Aviation sector calls for speed to ensure UK stays in SAF race

The chair of the alliance of the UK’s airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers, air navigation service providers and innovation companies in SAF and carbon removals, has called on the UK government to ensure the country does not get left behind in the race to a net zero aviation future.

Matt Gordon chair of Sustainable Aviation (SA) was speaking as the UK unveiled a new vision for the future of the country’s aviation industry and has warned that alongside the aims has to come with a mandate on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

Gorman added: “This is the critical decade where aviation must prove it will decarbonise. Our updated Net Zero Carbon Road Map shows that we have a clear, credible path to take the carbon out of flying. Through a combination of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, more efficient aircraft and airspace, zero emission planes and carbon removals, we can protect the huge benefits of aviation for future generations without the carbon cost.

“But we’ll do it faster, and create more jobs and investment in the UK, with the right policies, working in partnership with Government. The US and Europe are surging forwards in the race to create new industries in sustainable aviation fuels and technology. The UK has all the natural advantages to be able to join them – but we need to move quickly.

“An agreed mandate for SAF as soon as possible and a price support mechanism – building on Philip New’s independent report for the Government  – are key policy areas where we can act now to gain a share of the huge prize of making Britain the natural home of net zero aviation.”

He was speaking as the industry attended the Sustainable Skies World Summit at Farnborough, the UK aviation industry has announced higher ambition in its transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with the publication of an updated Net Zero Carbon Road-Map, reflecting advances in sustainable aviation technology made here in the UK.

SA said the UK is the global home of innovation in sustainable aviation, and has delivered a number of world firsts, including:

  • Since 2021, NATS has implemented nine airspace modernisation changes including the first UK implementations of Free Route Airspace and systemisation, saving more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 per year; and made changes to the North Atlantic track structure saving almost 1m tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • In November 2022, the RAF and industry partners carried out a world-first 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight using a military transporter aircraft – an RAF Voyager.
  • UK SAF production started last year on the Humber by Philipps 66 Ltd, with at least eight more producers planning plants in the UK, with the right Government incentive policies.
  • Last November Rolls-Royce and easyJet achieved the world’s first run of a modern aircraft engine on hydrogen.
  • In January 2023, ZeroAvia conducted the successful first UK flight of a 19-seater Dornier 228 with one of the two engines running on hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Later in 2023, the world’s first net zero transatlantic flight will take off from London to New York – using solely sustainable aviation fuel.

As a result of these current and future advances the UK aviation industry plans to reduce its carbon emissions by almost 70 MtCO2 to meet its net zero targets, with:

The organisation said  there are two measures accounting for around three quarters of aviation’s journey to net zero:

  • 4 Million Tonnes of carbon dioxide(MtCO2) saved from sustainable aviation fuel.
  • 6 MtCO2 saved by burning less fuel due to better air traffic management and operating procedures and the introduction of known and new, more efficient and zero carbon emissions aircraft.

The remaining 18.4 MtCO2 will be achieved through permanent carbon removals, and also slightly lower growth due to the decarbonisation cost impact on passenger demand, for example through the higher cost of SAF and compliance with global and regional carbon trading and offsetting schemes like CORSIA and EU ETS.

“The Road-Map models the reality that the increased cost of decarbonising aviation will inevitably reduce passenger demand,” the SA explained. “The demand reduction due to the costs of decarbonisation represents around 14 percent of the industry’s reduction in CO2 emissions. However, this modelling also shows that, even with slightly higher costs, people still want to fly, with overall growth in passenger numbers of almost 250 million by 2050.

“The UK has the right conditions to lead the world in developing sustainable aviation technologies like SAF and zero carbon emission hydrogen-powered aircraft. It has the third-largest global aviation network, a world-leading aerospace and aviation sector, and geographical advantages in both renewable energy generation and carbon capture capacity.”

However, the industry warned that this leadership and the opportunity to make the UK home to a low carbon aviation industry is at risk. Without urgent Government action the UK may miss out on these industries of tomorrow.

“Today more than ever, the UK is competing in a global race to capture private investment that will drive development of the technologies to power net zero and create the jobs of the future, The organisation added. “The US has passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars in incentives for low-carbon technologies, including SAF and hydrogen production, and the EU is distributing billions of euros in carbon allowances to help subsidise the higher cost of SAF for its airlines.

“With further targeted policy support in partnership with the Government, the UK can reach net zero and ensure the country captures the full economic benefits of this technological revolution.”