EU calls for aviation sector to grasp sustainable future

European commissioner for transport, Adina Vălean, has urged airlines and the aviation industry to go further as the latest issue of the European Aviation Environmental Report found that the carbon footprint of EU aviation activity was reducing.

The third European Aviation Environmental Report aimed to provides an objective overview of the significant developments across the aviation sector.

It reported the number of flights at EU27+EFTA airports increased by 15% between 2005 and 2019 to 9.3 million, while passenger kilometres almost doubled (+90%). However, flights declined to just 5.1 million in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the move to a net zero future, CO2 emissions of all flights departing from EU27+EFTA airports reached 147 million tonnes in 2019, which was 34% more than in 2005. Long-haul flights (above 4,000 km) represented approximately 6% of departures during 2019 and half of all CO2 and NOX emissions. In 2050, the report said it is predicted that in-sector measures could reduce CO2 emissions by 69% to 59 million tonnes compared to a business-as-usual “technology freeze” scenario (19% from Technology/Design, 8% from ATM-Ops, 37% from SAF and 5% from electric/hydrogen aircraft).

“While the number of flights at EU27+EFTA airports dropped dramatically from 9.3 million in 2019, to respectively 4.12 million and 5.07 million in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, longer-term trends show that the region will be home to some 12.2 million annual flights by 2050, with aircraft CO2 emissions potentially rising to 188 million tonnes, unless environmental protection is further mainstreamed across the sector,” stated the report.

“Air pollutant emissions from aviation have increased within the EU,” it said. “Effective action requires better characterisation of aviation’s specific contribution compared to other sources of emissions, especially on particulate matter.”

The growth in aviation CO2 emissions was accelerating prior to Covid-19, with almost half of global CO2 emissions between 1940 and 2019 having occurred since 2000

On the move to the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), currently SAF supply remains low at less than 0.05% of total EU aviation fuel use. The European Commission has proposed a SAF blending mandate for fuel supplied to EU airports, with minimum shares of SAF gradually increasing from 2% in 2025 to 63% in 2050, and a sub-mandate for Power-to-Liquid SAF.

“To achieve this mandate, approximately 2.3 million tonnes of SAF would be required by 2030, 14.8 million tonnes by 2040, and 28.6 million tonnes by 2050,” the report stated.

“While the sector provides economic benefits, connectivity, and stimulates innovation, European citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the affect that aviation activities have on their quality of life through climate change, noise and air quality, and many are prepared to act on these concerns,” the report said. “This is especially so on climate change, which is considered by Europeans to be the single most serious problem facing the world.

“With these challenges also come opportunities for businesses to build their strategies and brand around this key priority of sustainability to reduce their environmental impact and attract a growing market share, talent and investment, as well as empower customers to join the fight against climate change in this decisive decade

“Scaled-up collaboration between public and private stakeholders will also be of the utmost importance to enhance existing measures, and identify new ones, that can deliver the European Green Deal objectives. The long-term future of the aviation sector will depend on the success of this effort.”

Welcoming the report Vălean said: “Considerable action has already been taken since the last edition of this report in 2019. This is reflected, for instance, in ever lower CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre and improved noise performance of aircraft. But the report shows scope to go further – with Sustainable Aviation Fuels showing particular potential, in line with our EU policy approach.”

EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx added: “As a key part of our mobility system, the aviation sector must fully contribute to achieving the Union’s climate and environment goals. Fully reflecting the costs from aviation environmental and climate impacts within market prices and enhancing the consistency of taxation across sectors would provide meaningful incentives to accelerate the transition of the EU transport sector towards sustainability.”