Last week Travel Tomorrow carried a piece arguing that more taxation is the not the way to make aviation more sustainable arguing that the industry does not need to be persuaded by “punitive measures like taxes to motivate change.” It is not clear why not. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has successfully relied on the 1944 Chicago Convention to avoid taxation and to maintain business as usual. It has taken them almost 20 years to develop CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation). Compared with the progress made in decarbonising road transport and rail, change has been glacial. Airlines emit 80% of our industry’s greenhouse gasses and air travel is growing at 5% per year. As other industries reduce their carbon emissions aviation will account for ever-larger shares of global emissions.
IATA argues that taxation siphons money out of aviation that could be used for innovation, however that tax is paid by the airlines not the manufacturers of airframes and engines, the people who will innovate. Aviation fuel remains untaxed, the polluter pays principle has not been applied to the , airline industry. When consumers pay a carbon offset, the airlines and manufacturers evade their responsibility to clean up the industry. Those few consumers who purchase offsets salve their conscience, although there is reason to doubt what quality and effectiveness of offsets. Ironically by salving their consciences they remove pressure on aviation to move to cleaner fuels.
Sustainable Aviation Fuels are attractive to the industry – they are drop in fuels which can be blended with jet fuel, the y facilitate business as usual delaying the fundamental change that aviation needs to make transitioning from carbon to hydrogen.
As the UK’s Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) wrote in their evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons in July 2019: “Nobody should be travelling on a flight for several hours at what amounts to a bus fare. What airlines should be doing is cancelling flights rather than selling them at such peppercorn rates, thereby leading the public to believe, falsely, that realistic prices are actually ‘rip offs’. CO2 emissions would fall if there were fewer flights, sold at realistic prices.”
The industry makes much of the failure of governments to deliver a Single European Sky (SES) resulting inefficient operations, but as was conceded in the TravelTomorrow piece last week 6-10%. It is convenient for the industry to blame governments for delaying SES. As Michael Baiada of ATH explains airlines waste fuel because it is cheap.
As Chris Lyle, of Air Transport Economics, has written in GreenAir Online:
“For the most part, biofuels do not reduce sufficiently even the CO2 emitted from an aircraft in flight (excluding the emissions from the fuel production and distribution). A new generation of feedstock uses waste with much greater CO2 reduction – about 70% even on a full life-cycle basis – but faces land use, distribution, scale-up and ultimately scarcity challenges.
However, a feedstock now gaining interest is CO2 itself. E-fuels are synthetic fuels made directly from CO2 captured from the atmosphere through a power-to-liquid (PtL) process (see here, for example). They have the potential to reduce air transport carbon emissions close to zero, depending on the renewable energy power source.”
In July last year Glenn Llewellyn VP Zero Emissions Technology at Airbus also backed hydrogen. “We believe we need to position the aviation industry to be powered by renewable energy, and hydrogen is a very good surrogate for allowing us to do that.” Currently, hydrogen looks promising for aircraft up to 200 passengers, but SAF or power-to-liquid fuels might prove to be better options for larger aircraft.”
Aviation Week in July last year concluded that “from 2030 onward to 2050, renewable hydrogen production technologies should reach maturity, the strategy says. Hydrogen and hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels should penetrate more widely into hard-to-decarbonise sectors including aviation and shipping.”