Over the last few years, anyone remotely interested in air transport would have come across the statement “Air transport accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions”.

That along with movements like #flightshame and the global need to head towards a carbon-neutral future have made sustainability in aviation a top focus for airlines, airports and their entire supply chains.  

Sustainability is possibly the biggest revolution air transport will see since the start of the jet age.

While the industry has tackled various challenges from 9/11, to global recessions, and health crises like Covid-19, building a carbon-neutral future requires a transformation in the way the industry operates.

So, what exactly is happening? To answer this question, we must look at three core areas: regulations, passenger sentiment and industry initiatives.

Sustainability Regulations & Goals

IATA’s 3 targets to address the global challenge of climate change include the following:  

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% a year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (Carbon-neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.  

Over and above this in 2016 the 39th ICAO assembly established CORSIA, a global offsetting mechanism for international aviation.

With its pilot phase launch in 2021 (up to 2023), CORSIA will have all member states part of the offset program by the year 2027, while keeping participation voluntary from 2024-2026.  

While IATA targets and ICAO measures provide for an umbrella approach and global outlook governments at a country level have begun taking multiples steps to address the challenge.  

In France, the government has banned short haul domestic flights for routes with viable rail options (where rail journey can be completed in lesser than 2 hours and 30 minutes).

The same is now being evaluated all across Europe. Measures like these would have a transformational impact on the industry.  

The ICAO has also set up the “Fly Green Fund”, a non-profit organization and a corporate sustainable bio jet fuel program.  

Passenger Sentiment

Governments and industry are forced to react when the people and consumers want change. The #flightshame (flygskam) movement first gathered steam in Sweden back in 2017, reportedly by Staffan Lindberg, a Swedish singer.

This soon led to other celebrities across Sweden and Germany following suit and caught global attention when social activist Greta Thunberg spoke of the movement, she then traveled to the United Nations HQ in New York by sea (in a zero net emission sailboat).  

The Swedish and German airport operators noted a drop in 9% & 12% in domestic passenger numbers in the year following the movement.  

While Covid has dampened the noise around flight shame, it is likely that post-Covid more passengers would opt for sustainable travel options.

Industry Initiatives

The industry has taken the climate change challenge head on. Whether it is regulatory requirements, passenger expectations, airline missions and goals or simply PR implications, airlines have realized the need to invest in a green future.  

SAF (Sustainable aviation fuel) is on top of this list. Airlines from British Airways, Etihad, United, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and many more have already started trialing and using SAF blends while flying. Other airlines like Brussels and JetBlue have laid out plans to invest in SAF.  

Airlines are also investing in next generation aircraft, the recent deal of United with Boom Supersonic is a testament to what the future looks like. While Airbus and Boeing are both heavily invested in zero emission aircraft technologies like hydrogen powered aircraft.  

Initiatives like JTV (JetBlue technology ventures) are investing in sustainability via a diverse portfolio of companies dealing with SAFs and other operational efficiencies in the supply chain.  

IATA has outlined a 4-pillar strategy to achieve its goals:  

  • Improved technology, including the deployment of SAFs.
  • More efficient aircraft operations
  • Infrastructure improvements, including modernized air traffic management systems.  
  • A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap.  

While this was intended to be a broad overview to introduce the topic, Kambr Media will be including coverage to include commentary around the much talked about topic of sustainable air travel. Stay tuned!