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Fortem International Ltd.
Fortem International Ltd.
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Harnessing green air travel for net zero emissions
Collaboration and innovation will advance economic prosperity on our way to net zero emissions says The Air Charter Association Sustainability & Innovation Group’s Nicola-Jane Sellers, who also represents its NextGen group and works for Luxaviation as charter sales executive.
Nicola-Jane Sellers discusses meaningful motives for technological innovation and mobilising alternative fuels.

In response to the climate goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, IATA committed to radically decarbonising our industry and implementing a net zero emissions goal by 2050. The thought of an emissions-free aviation utopia is exhilarating says Sellers, who points out that humans instinctively cultivate innovation and embrace change. It is our prerogative, as humans and as aviators, to perpetuate this momentum. She talks here about how redirecting capital and implementing policy aligned with industry progression and pioneering innovations are key methods of adoption that can be leveraged to drive change. It is, however, our attitude toward change that she believes will determine the inevitable.

Some scholars believe that technological innovation may have driven human migration some 80,000 years ago and, to this day, it is still a significant force that will continue to shape the future of our vulnerable planet, and our beloved industry. Aviation is one of the largest carbon-emitting contributors in the travel industry. With passenger numbers set to continue increasing post-pandemic, we must ask how and when can we lose this badge of dishonour?

Thankfully, many aircraft manufacturers are well on their way to ecological enlightenment. The adoption of circular processes in complex operations have prolonged the life cycles of many key components; a simple initiative which provides the core foundation for sustainable innovation.

Advancements in electric propulsion could eliminate direct carbon emissions and reduce fuel costs by up to 90 per cent. The benefits here may be revolutionary, but aerodynamic challenges will delay the implementation of long haul electrification. That being said, the magnitude of investment steered toward this sector could induce a tipping point. Sector-wide regeneration could be just over the horizon, if only we enable it.

Navigating a flight path to net zero emissions through technological innovation will be challenging, such innovations must be economically viable to secure sector-wide buy in. We must trust the innovators behind the innovations and provide uncompromised support for industry newcomers. The challenges we face now may be great, but the inevitable challenges humanity will face as a result of inaction will be far greater.

There is much scepticism toward the viability of change within the industry; “Isn’t this just too big a problem to resolve?” There is no doubt that the challenges we face are indeed colossal. However, it is our social responsibility and moral imperative to change perceptions that may impede the advancement of corporate sustainability practices. We still have time and we have the resources. Now we need action.

Alternative fuels is another promising area as it requires no reengineering of engines or complex transition; aircraft certified to use the current specification of jet fuel are compatible with SAF. While the short term cost implications could act as a deterrent, these are far outweighed by the long term benefits.

Currently, the limited production of SAF is increasing costs and restricting consumption. This is likely to prevent wider uptake unless SAF manufacturers address increased production and commercial viability. At present, SAF is the only viable option to reduce carbon emissions at the rate required.

Competitive pricing of alternative fuels may seem far-fetched, but it is entirely dependent on technological innovation as well as support from governments and stakeholders. Policy implementation will be key to providing a framework to facilitate investment and to determine future capital allocation, a mobiliser for supply growth. Efforts must be re-directed toward internal supply chains, to influence and educate at source.

Today’s temperatures are the highest for around 40 million years, at which time the planet was entirely ice-free and sea levels were a staggering 100 metres higher than they are today. And humans had not yet evolved. Climate initiatives are fundamental to effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is an unprecedented commitment to economic and social transformation that is required.

Unsurprisingly, organisations that embrace and capitalise on change are more resilient to transition inertia and exemplify success. Those who shift business-as-usual strategies will be better placed in a net zero economy. The four main drivers of innovation are technological, social, regulatory and financial, and those who intend to sit tight, grasping onto every square inch of their surfboard so as to ride out that wave, may well be exposed to unnecessary risk. They could potentially find themselves operating in a market of constant and unpredictable change, a VUCA situation that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

We can all push for change within our organisations and our industry. There are many new technologies emerging throughout the aviation sector. Transformation is non-negotiable, we need the fast technological, industrial and societal changes of a fourth industrial revolution; Industry 4.0.

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