KLM partners with Microsoft to create sustainable aviation 'blueprint'

Dutch airline KLM and tech giant Microsoft have partnered to develop a 'blueprint' outlining how the aviation sector can decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement.

The blueprint is due for publication in 2020. Image: KLM

The blueprint is due for publication in 2020. Image: KLM

Late last week, the two firms signed a letter of intent at a meeting in Washington, detailing plans to co-operate on sustainable air travel initiatives. 

The agreement includes plans to increase KLM’s purchasing of alternative fuels for aircraft, including bio-based Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Microsoft specifically will purchase an amount of SAF equivalent to all flights taken by its employees between the US and the Netherlands through KLM’s Corporate BioFuel scheme.

According to KLM, SAF could result in an 80% reduction of life-cycle carbon emissions is used at scale. The airline is notably aiming to open its own SAF plant.

Also detailed in the letter of intent are plans to develop a blueprint on how the global aviation sector, which is responsible for 2-3% of global carbon emissions annually, can decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement.

Such a document, the letter states, will “engage other corporations to stimulate the demand for sustainable air travel solutions and achieve ambitions to address their carbon footprint within their own supply chains”.

KLM’s executive vice president for customer experience, Boet Kriken, said the airline’s partnership with Microsoft has been forged within a “real window of opportunity to accelerate the development of sustainable air travel”.

Kriken said: “KLM believes that medium- and long-term production of sustainable aviation fuel is extremely important for the airline industry to achieve its carbon dioxide reduction goals. Together with partners like Microsoft, we can make this a reality so much sooner.”

Spotlight on aviation

The announcement from KLM comes amid a flurry of media attention around climate change and aviation, with Prince Harry being accused of hypocrisy for launching a climate action campaign after being spotted taking private jets, and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publishing its recommendations on aligning aviation with the UK’s 2050 net-zero goal.

International aviation had previously been excluded from national carbon accounting under the UK's original Climate Change Act of 2008, but this exclusion is set to be altered under the Government’s new, stricter, targets.

According to the CCC, Ministers must develop sector-specific strategies with time-bound, numerical targets for decarbonising aviation if the UK is to meet its 2050 goal. It recommends that such strategies cap growth – both in terms of airport expansions and the number of flights offered.

This latter recommendation was welcomed by supporters of the so-called ‘Flyskam’ or ‘flight-shaming’ movement, which argues that, in the absence of passenger planes which are fully electrified or run on 100% biofuels, the best solution is not to fly at all. The movement has achieved global awareness through the support of activist Greta Thunberg and is also beginning to shape investor demands.

Airlines and airports have taken a varied approach to this movement. KLM itself launched a communications campaign, ‘Fly Responsibly’, which urges passengers to consider whether they could take the train or use video conferencing instead of flying. Others, including EasyJet and British Airways, are placing the focus instead on electric aircraft and biofuels.

edie readers keen to  learn more about sustainability in aviation are encourages to listen to the latest episode of the Sustainable Business Covered Podcast. The episode features exclusive interviews with British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz; the team behind algae-plane project Aerium; and ClimateCare's head of corporate partnerships, Rob Stevens.

Sarah George



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