Iata urges governments to increase production of sustainable aviation fuel

Clean fuel tipping point is possible by 2030, global airline body says

Aviation sustainability panel at the Iata annual general meeting and world air transport summit. Photo: Iata
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Governments must provide "large-scale incentives" to quickly increase the production of sustainable aviation fuels, as the industry seeks to meet its net-zero carbon target by 2050, the International Air Transport Association says.

Current estimates are for SAF to account for 65 per cent of aviation’s carbon mitigation in 2050, which would require an annual production capacity of 449 billion litres, the global airline body said.

Investments are in place to expand SAF annual production from the current 125 million litres to five billion by 2025.

However, with effective government incentives, production could reach 30 billion litres by 2030, which would be a tipping point for SAF production and utilisation, Iata said on Tuesday.

"Governments don’t need to invent a playbook. Incentives to transition electricity production to renewable sources like solar or wind worked. As a result, clean energy solutions are now cheap and widely available," Willie Walsh, Iata's director general, said at its 78th annual general meeting in Doha.

"With similar incentives for SAF, we could see 30 billion litres available by 2030. Though still far from where we need to be, it would be a clear tipping point towards our net zero ambition of ample SAF quantities at affordable prices."

With the aviation industry slated to swing to profits next year, the focus must now shift to a greener and more sustainable future. SAF, carbon off-setting and new technology were among the key themes discussed during the Iata annual meeting this week as airlines rebound from the damage inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

SAF is currently between two and four times the price of conventional jet fuel. Airlines have purchased every drop of the 125 million litres of SAF that was available, according to Iata.

At present, at least 38 countries have SAF-specific policies that clear the way for the market to develop.

Capitalising on various policy measures, airlines have entered into $17 billion of forward-purchasing agreements for SAF, the industry body said.

By applying incentive-based policies to SAF production, governments can boost supply to reach 30 billion litres by the end of the decade, Iata said.

"This would be a tipping point as it would send a clear signal to the market that SAF is playing its intended long-term role in aviation’s decarbonisation and encourage investments to drive up production and drive down the price," the industry body said.

While hydrogen and electrically powered aircraft are part of the industry's plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, SAF is required to overhaul long-haul flying, according to Iata.

“Hydrogen and/or electric propulsion systems will most likely be available for short haul commercial flights by 2035, but the majority of emissions come from long-haul widebody flights, and to tackle these emissions, SAF is the only proven solution," said Sebastian Mikosz, Iata's senior vice president for environment and sustainability.

"We know it works, and we need to double down our efforts to get all actors of the industry on board, including governments, to increase production, availability and uptake."

Updated: June 21, 2022, 11:42 AM