Government promises sustainable flights in ten-point plan for aviation sector

The Jet-Zero Strategy does not outline measures to cap or reduce passenger numbers – a move recommended by the Government’s own climate advisors

The Government’s new strategy for building the aviation sector is expected to arrive today (26 May), to be launched by Aviation Minister Robert Courts.

The broad aims of the ten-point plan are to increase passenger footfall by rebuilding consumer confidence after the pandemic, supporting jobs through a diversified workforce and embedding sustainability into the sector.

Delivery of the new ten-point plan will be supported by an all-new Aviation Council made up of airlines, airports and wider representatives from the aviation sector, as well as ministers and officials from both the UK Government and Devolved Administrations.

Aviation Minister Robert Courts said: “The pandemic posed an existential threat to the aviation sector. Now recovery has started, we have a chance to build back better than ever before. Through this new strategy, I’m setting out ten priorities to ensure we build an industry that’s not only fit for the future, but one that’s world-leading.

“By working closely with the sector to focus on sustainable growth, powered by the latest innovations, we can ensure aviation creates jobs and opportunities across all four nations of the UK.”

Sustainable growth?

The Government claims the plan will help develop the skillset and workforce to utilise new low-carbon technologies, including flying taxis, electric planes and sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

Aviation has often proven a sticking point in discussions around the transition to low-carbon transport. Globally, it accounts for 3% of emissions but, Covid-19 pandemic aside, has been one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors in terms of climate impact.

Detailed in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is a commitment to align the sector with net-zero by 2050. Plans for delivery are broadly in line with those put forward by the UK Sustainable Aviation coalition, which last month published new targets for members to reduce absolute net emissions by at least 15% by 2030 and 40% by 2040.

As part of the Plan, the Government has launched a “Jet Zero” consultation, committing the sector to net-zero by 2050. For domestic aviation, an earlier target of 2040 will be consulted upon by the DfT. This will cover all airport operations in England as well as all domestic flights. All airport operations in England would also have to be zero-emission by this deadline. The Government will publish its Jet Zero Strategy later this year.

Earlier this year, the UK Government pledged to work with the aviation industry to deliver the world’s first net-zero-certified transatlantic flight by 2023, using a combination of alternative fuels and offsetting to mitigate emissions.

The flight will be powered using 100% SAF, with no conventional jet fuel in the mix. The Department for Transport (DfT) has asked the industry to prioritise the use of SAFs made using waste cooking oil and from household waste, as SAFs made using virgin biofuels can be detrimental in terms of land-use.

Currently, international regulations limit the level of SAF in blends to 50%. Flights can only be powered by blends exceeding 50% if the Civil Aviation Authority deems the aircraft suitable for a higher proportion. The DfT and industry will work to obtain this certification; Rolls-Royce has stated that it has already tested large, commercial aero engines using 100% SAF successfully.

SAFs purport to generate lifecycle emissions at levels significantly lower than conventional jet fuel. The DfT is forecasting a reduction of 70-80% in this case. To ensure that the transatlantic flight is net-zero, the DfT will work with the aviation industry to offset residual emissions.

While the sector is throwing its weight behind SAFs, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recommendations on decarbonisation in the sector focus more on electric aircraft and capping growth. The CCC’s most optimistic scenario for the national use of SAFs is 7% by 2030.

The sector has also been criticised for failing to cap growth in a bid to reduce emissions.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie