The challenge for business aviation is not just to have a proactive and understood story – but a plan around decarbonisation and the future. While progress is being made, SAF production is increasing and platforms like ‘book and claim’ make SAF more accessible, much of the narrative is reactive and passes the buck rather than taking ownership. The reality is that further harm will be done to the environment before truly sustainable aviation options become available; business and general aviation are at the forefront of making these technology and innovations possible and we must own this narrative. 

Patrick Edmond, Managing Director of Altair Advisory and an expert in the world of aviation sustainability wrote – somewhat provocatively – in 2022 about ‘how the aviation industry is in danger of making itself the new Big Tobacco, and finding its advertising or its growth restricted by regulators, if it doesn’t take decarbonisation more seriously’. 

Patrick pointed to the remarks of Augustin de Romanet, the CEO of Groupe ADP, the operator of Orly and CDG airports in Paris, and about 20 other airports worldwide. He said: 

Emissions reduction should come before traffic growth Long-haul short-break leisure travel is not reasonable If the trajectory doesn’t change, it is conceivable that we’ll see “flight quotas” KLM too is raising concerns about the unsustainable nature of commercial aviation’s current growth path and has started providing passengers the option of travelling by high-speed train for short haul flights with a possible permanent replacement of the flight in the future. Unfortunately, many leaders in both commercial and business aviation are choosing to put their head in the sand rather than be proactive in their approach. 

Patrick characterises this fantasy attitude as:

“let’s keep growing as fast as we want, and we’ll bet on sustainable aviation fuel and technology and carbon offsets to allow us to reach net zero by 2050.”

While there is continuing speculation about new fuel technologies and the electrification of aircraft, Patrick believes that SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) is going to be enormously important in reducing aviation’s emissions in the short term.  However, he does believe the commercial aviation industry’s overall assumptions for continued traffic growth are going to survive the next few years. It will therefore be for business aviation to continue to shoulder the burden of the costs and development for SAF in the short to medium term until suitable alternatives are available.  The reality of business aviation turning to SAF as a primary fuel is that the costs of flying will go up:  – SAF is made from advanced biofuels and electro-fuels, both of which are significantly more expensive than kerosene.
– SAF emits at least as much CO2 as kerosene – any greenhouse gas savings come in the production stage.
– Under EU plans, carbon allowances would be scrapped, forcing aircraft to pay more to emit.
– The EU is also breaking with decades of tradition and planning to place a tax on kerosene for intra-EU flights.  Read the 6 challenges facing business aviation in 2023 in full here.