Davos pushes ‘greener’ fuel for private jets leaving World Economic Forum

The so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF will be available at Zurich airport for those arriving in private jets

A police officer stands guard near the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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Private jets flying into Davos this week for the World Economic Forum will be able to fill their tanks with fuel designed to lower carbon emissions, as the annual global talk shop tries to beef up its green credentials.

The so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF will be available at Zurich airport, according to a coalition of groups representing business jet operators, manufacturers and fuel suppliers. A 30 per cent blend with conventional jet fuel can lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 18 per cent on a comparable 1,000-nautical-mile (1,852km) flight, the group said on its website.

Private jets — a staple of Davos — have become a lightning rod for the flight-shaming movement, with the global elite criticised for creating unnecessary emissions by avoiding commercial flights. Promoting alternative fuels could help ease the pressure mounting more broadly on the aviation industry, as the European Union considers ending tax exemptions for jet fuel.

Carbon output from international aviation has more than doubled since 1990 and the United Nations has said the industry is set to overtake power generation as the single biggest carbon dioxide producer within three decades.

The Davos initiative also comes with an offsetting plan.

Jet operators using conventional fuel at airports in or around New York, Boston and Washington where the SAF variety isn't available can opt for an equivalent amount to be used on flights leaving from Van Nuys airport near Los Angeles, according to the coalition. The SAF fuel blend typically costs more than the petroleum alternative.

"Business jet operators and their stakeholders around the world can and should request SAF when fuelling their tanks," said Kurt Edwards, director general for the International Business Aviation Council.

Airlines have criticised attempts to impose new taxes in Europe, arguing that reducing emissions requires a global solution. Carriers are embracing biofuel-kerosene blends, but penetration has been slow because of high costs and limited supply. A switch to hybrid and electric propulsion is not expected to be feasible until the mid-2030s, and then only for smaller airliners.