If we don’t work in partnership, we won’t reach industry 2050 CO2 reduction target, warns Qantas chief
Fri 17 June 2016 – Although there is a current focus on achieving a goal of climate neutral growth from 2020, the aviation industry also has a long-term target of cutting net CO2 emissions by half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. At IATA’s recent annual meeting in Dublin, representatives from industry, academia and NGOs came together in a panel session to discuss what was needed to reach it. There was no doubt, said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (right), the environmental challenge would be one of the biggest facing the industry over the coming decades and it would require all sectors to work closely together and with government on the issue. The 2050 target was very aggressive, he said, with no silver bullet on how to achieve it and would require many different global technology, operational and infrastructure initiatives, particularly on sustainable alternative fuels.
“The journey has started,” said Patrick de Castelbajac, CEO of aircraft manufacturer ATR. “It’s not just a question of being politically correct anymore, it’s whether we want our industry to be strong in 20 or 30 years from now, and there is no other way than being environmentally respectful.”
He said manufacturers like ATR thought very differently than 10-15 years ago over the environmental impact of their aircraft, which was now considered at every stage from design through to the eventual end-of-life disposal. “There is also a greater convergence between economic and environmental interests, which we can see clearly on fuel burn,” he said.
Joyce said the new ICAO aircraft CO2 standard would drive advances in aircraft and engine technology, which needed rapid and continuous development but sustainable alternative fuels would play a crucial part in reaching the 2050 goal.
“We will need to have a huge proportion of sustainable biofuels in the fuels we will buying in order to meet it,” he said. “That’s a big ask. We can’t achieve it on our own and will require R&D and help from governments and other industrial sectors.”
Joyce said the current low oil price should not impact the focus on fuel efficiency and sustainable fuels. “Airlines are not going to change their policies for short-term gains,” he said. “No one can tell you where the price of jet fuel is going to be in one year, let alone 10 or 20 years. We need to continue along the path of developing sustainable fuels so there are alternative sources to mitigate our risk as well as bringing environmental benefits.”
At the peak, he said the Australian carrier was spending $4.5 billion annually on jet fuel that had to be imported and there was a strong business case for his government to support through policy setting a local alternative fuels industry with new jobs. “This is a great form of innovation that governments need to get behind. Biofuels are the only way we are going to get to our 2050 target. It’s a question of how we as an industry can cooperate and how we can get governments interested enough to put a policy framework in place to make that happen.”
Qantas, he reported, had achieved a 2.1% improvement in fuel efficiency last year as a result of operational and aircraft weight-saving initiatives but although there had been advances in navigation technology and procedures, progress had been slow in developing ATC infrastructure.
John-Paul Clarke, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, added that new-generation aircraft were having to perform like Ferraris on pot-holed roads. “We are operating in the same way as we did 40 years ago,” he said. “2050 might be a long way off but due to industry time lags, there’s only around 10 years left to figure out how to reach the goal.”
The panellists agreed that it would be important to continually measure progress towards the 2050 target in a transparent process. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” said Angela Gittens, Director General of Airports Council International.
“We need continuous monitoring of what we are doing, perhaps by an independent entity that would bring credibility,” added Clarke.
Tim Johnson of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation cautioned that it should not become an “accountancy exercise, where we see one gallon of biofuel uplifted to an aircraft or a tonne of CO2 offset as the way we measure progress,” adding it was important to consider the wider sustainable development agenda.
Investment decisions needed to be taken now to reach the industry’s 2050 target, he suggested, and clarity was needed on what should happen, and by when. It would be tempting to see the ICAO market-based measure as a safety net, he said, but there must be emphasis on the other three pillars required for aviation emissions reductions – aircraft technology, operations and infrastructure.