The European Commission’s Connecting Europe Days 2022 kicked off yesterday at Lyon Saint Exupéry Airport with the Connecting Europe by Air: the Green Transformation event. During the day, special sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) flights came into the airport, while all the stakeholders of the aviation industry presented their involvement in the sustainability journey.
“As today’s event shows, aviation’s decarbonisation cannot be achieved by airlines acting alone. It requires the collective efforts of many different players, including policymakers and suppliers, so that all European travellers can benefit – especially the younger generation of flyers, who expect nothing less from us”, Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe
1. The airlines’ side
Europe’s airlines are demonstrating their continued commitment to sustainable air transport by operating dedicated flights with sustainable aviation fuel during the event, to which over 2,000 participants were expected, including hundreds of youth from across Europe.
Airlines for Europe (A4E) members, including Air France, easyJet, KLM, Lufthansa, Transavia and Vueling, each uplifted 30% SAF on a total of ten flights departing from Lyon, resulting in a CO2 emissions reduction of 27% per flight compared to conventional fuel use. Increased SAF uptake has been proven to be the most effective means to decarbonise aviation in the short term, but also generally for long-haul flights, until newer technologies, such as hydrogen, become available.
Full electrification is only possible for short and very short haul flights, but 80% of the overall emissions come from long haul flights. For this reason, SAF remains necessary for the industry’s decarbonisation.Stéphane Thion, Head of Sustainable Aviation Fuels at Total Energies
In addition, multiple flights to the conference also operated with sustainable aviation fuel onboard and featured further sustainability measures currently in place today, including reduced single-use plastics, crew uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles, sustainable catering and further off-setting of emissions through certified climate projects.
Airlines also showcased the emissions reduction benefits of the Single European Sky (SESAR), with flights to Lyon following unrestricted, fully optimised routings as part of SESAR’s ALBATROSS project. The project is currently conducting hundreds of gate-to-gate flight trials across Europe to demonstrate how optimised ATM operations and new technologies can mitigate aviation’s environmental footprint and maximise emissions reductions, with the goal to reduce average CO2 emissions per flight by 5-10% (0.8-1.6 tonnes) by 2035 through enhanced cooperation.
Despite the current challenges our sector is facing, operationally in the wake of the global pandemic, geopolitically and with rising costs – airlines’ commitment to sustainable air transport is stronger than ever.Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe
Air France – KLM‘s Vice President for sustainability also highlighted that airlines are fully committed to the Fit for 55 goals. Currently they are using 0.5-1% SAF on their flights, as well as renewing their fleet, with the target of having 43% next generation aircraft by 2025. Furthermore, the airline makes sure to thoroughly check the quality of the SAF they acquire and its origins, so that its production does not compete with food production or contribute to deforestation.
Most importantly, the airlines want flying to remain affordable and accessible and they maintain the position that passengers should not be the ones supporting the decarbonisation costs. They call on institutions to take measures to reduce the price gap between SAF and kerosene, but also coordinate internationally to adopt homogenous policies around the world.
2. The airports’ side
The choice of airport was not by chance. Lyon Saint Exupéry Airport is currently going through serious renovations and is on track to become the first net zero commercial airport in France by 2026.
“Lyon is the capital of decarbonisation”, said VINCI Airports CEO Nicolas Notebaert, “using electric cars, hydrogen trucks, but also investing in reforestation schemes to offset its carbon footprint”. Furthermore, VINCI Airports’ vast photovoltaic program will see the creation of one of the largest photovoltaic power plants in France (17 hectares) at Lyon airport. These are scopes 1, referring to the airport’s fossil fuel consumption, and 2, referring to the electricity source, of the decarbonising airport operations.
Contributing to the decarbonisation of scope 3 consists of innovations such as eco-modulation of airport charges, the development of sustainable biofuels and investment in hydrogen, which VINCI Airports is developing in Lyon with Airbus and Air Liquide.
One of the measures that the airports and airlines have found together is running the planes on electricity from the airports while they are grounded. This way, they do not burn unnecessary fuel to power the aircraft, measure already implemented at Lyon.
3. The manufacturers’ side
The flights arriving and departing Lyon Airport yesterday were fuelled by a 30% SAF blend provided by Total Energies, the second largest SAF producer in Europe and third in the world. The production is entirely based in France and their aviation president, Joël Navaron, explained the challenges faced by SAF producers.
First of all, the procurement of the used cooking oil is still underdeveloped and under regulated. Currently, they bring 85% of the oil used in the production of SAF from Asia and even with the transport to Europe and all the logistics, the overall footprint of using Total Energies SAF is 90% lower than flying with regular fuel.
Furthermore, the current mandates only allow for blends of up to 50% SAF, whereas for the industry to reach net zero by 2050, 65% of the fuel needs to be SAF. Both producers and airlines need the right incentives and regulations to increase SAF usage, considering that fuel already represents 30% of a flight’s expenses and SAF is 4-5 times more expensive than regular fuel.
The aircraft’s fuel efficiency is also a key contributor to the decarbonisation of the sector. Airlines are renewing their fleets and acquiring more modern, fuel and overall energy efficient planes. Next generation planes have the potential to reduce emissions by up to 38%.
Our job is similar to what Tesla has done with electric vehicles: to make aircraft compatible with sustainable fuelling technologies, like SAF and hydrogen.Glenn Llewellyn, VP zero emission aircraft at Airbus
Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic and the current economic situation, Airbus is fulfilling its orders for next generation aircraft. “Fleet renewal is a hugely important step. After all, the energy you don’t use is the best energy”, said Glenn Llewellyn, VP zero emission aircraft at Airbus.
4. The institutional side
“Today, under real operational conditions, we’ve demonstrated that increased SAF uptake and more efficient air traffic management in Europe can reduce CO2 emissions by more than 30% per flight. Now we need policymakers to do their part in helping to make SAF more accessible and affordable – but equally, we need national governments to finally implement the Single European Sky, to avoid expensive fuels from being wasted on inefficient routings”, said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe.
Airlines are asking for the fast adoption of the SESAR project. Being able to fly more direct routes, for example not having to avoid airspace above military bases, has the potential of reducing fuel consumption by 3-5%. Besides trajectory, the ALBATROSS project also researches more efficient continuous descent operations and operations on the ground, which can be achieved using the collective knowledge from airports that agree to share their data. Overall, SESAR can save 28 million tonnes of CO2 per year and 14.5 million hours for passengers.
EUROCONTROL has calculated that the difference between today’s flights and the ideal fuel-efficient flight is only 10%, but that 10% is very difficult to achieve. We know how to do it, we’re just not there yet and Member States need to get out of their comfort zones and step up to the challenge.Filip Cornelis, Director for Aviation at DG Mobility and Transport
Furthermore, during the panel debate, Fatima pointed out that it is not enough for Europe to introduce SAF mandates if the rest of the world does not adopt similar measures. If Europe introduces strict measures before the rest of the world, it risks having the exact opposite effect. Planes could simply avoid fuelling in the EU, which means either carrying enough fuel for the return flight or going around the continent, neither of which are viable options. Homogenous international action is vital for the sector’s decarbonisation by 2050.
“We will do our best to convince our international partners at ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organization) to raise their ambitions and make commitments. But commitments and actions are different and it is the actions that are important. We are pushing for ICAO to take action”, responded European Commissioner for transport Adina Vălean. “In the meantime, progress can be made if everyone applies CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation)”, she added.