Policymakers: Let’s get green aviation off the ground together
Athar Husain Khan, secretary-general EBAA, argues that now is the time for governments to support business aviation – and industry that has been pushing for sustainability for decades.
So far, the 2020s have been an interesting time for European Business aviation. Following the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its impact on aviation as a whole, our industry hit new heights in July 2021, recording our busiest month ever with around 85,000 flights. This trend has continued into 2022, as commercial aviation has struggled to come to terms with rebounding demand of travellers.
There are numerous reasons why travellers are turning to Business aviation since the health pandemic – not least for the peace of mind of reduced potential exposure to the virus.
Availability is one such reason, as business jets connect regions otherwise unserved. In fact, our figures show that Business aviation connects over 100,000 airport pairs in Europe, versus just 30,000 for commercial aviation.
Another reason is consistency of service. We have all been in that frustrating scenario at an airport where we are sat at the gate with plenty of time to spare before our due departure, only to learn that the flight has been delayed and we will have to lose more time waiting.
For Business aviation, this is not a concern, as the service is tailored to the customer – allowing our travellers to get on with going about their business. We estimate that an average of 127 minutes can be saved per trip within Europe by using a business jet versus a commercial airliner.
And with many of the taboos of an industry often cast as a luxury service for a certain socio-economic profile now broken, it is little wonder that a new kind of customer – namely SMEs and mid-caps – is now availing of Business aviation.
However, with increased popularity comes increased scrutiny – and Business aviation’s sustainability credentials are increasingly the subject of that scrutiny.
In fact, users of business jets are under the microscope on social media, with a swathe of accounts tracking movements and calculating the carbon burn of our clientele.
This scrutiny has served to muddy our industry – an industry that has been working hard for almost two decades to move in the right direction on sustainability.
For example, back in 2009 the key protagonists of our industry got together and created a pledge to tackle climate change – the Business aviation Commitment on Climate Change [link] – which sought to achieve 2% per year fuel efficiency gains up to 2020; and to achieve carbon neutral growth by the 2030.
Having reached those targets at the turn of the decade, we have doubled down our commitment, by pledging to reach net zero by 2050, in line with the EU’s Green Deal goals.
Perhaps counter to popular opinion, our industry is at the forefront of innovation in aerospace technologies. A lot of the advancements that have improved commercial aviation’s own sustainability performance were borne out of our industry.
At our annual trade show, EBACE, taking place in Geneva in May 2022 this year, the conference hall was full with examples of how our member companies are innovating for the environment.
Walking around the floor, visitors could get up close to all manner of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOLs). These small, short-distance air-taxis promise to disrupt the air-travel industry. These vehicles are in advanced testing in Europe – a hopeful early adopter – with rollout of these air-taxis mooted for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
On a larger scale, one of Europe’s electric aircraft pioneers is expanding its portfolio of light electric aircraft. Work has begun on a 19-seat electric regional aircraft, which, when it comes to market, could really be a game-changer in the race towards a net zero future.
But electric-powered jets are not the only route to net zero Business aviation. Short term, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) will play an important role in reducing our industry’s carbon footprint: by up to 80% over its life cycle compared to regular fossil jet fuels, in fact.
Giant leaps have been made in this field by industry – this year at EBACE, a business jet set a city-pair speed record while operating on sustainable aviation fuel. Furthermore, another test-flight tested a 100% SAF blend in 2021, and a regional airliner this summer became the first 100% SAF-powered test flight on a commercial regional aircraft.
As these examples suggest, our industry is on a journey. We are at the cutting edge of aeronautical advancement. But this is a journey that we cannot navigate alone.
The whole of Europe’s economy faces the same challenge that we do – and we need to face up to it together. Taken as a whole, aviation only counts for 2% of all global man-made carbon emissions – and Business aviation accounts for just 2% of that.
But given our nimbler aircraft, our shorter average distances and our lower speeds than commercial jets, our industry can serve as the test bed for a greener aviation industry. To get there though, we need Europe’s regulators to work with us, not against us. Recent talks of banning the industry or calls for heavier regulation will only serve to stunt the innovation potential and thus slow aviation’s progress towards net zero.
What we need is an enabling and incentivising policy environment that provides would-be investors with the certainty they require to fund the kinds of mid- to long-term investment that will revolutionise our sector. What we need is more public-private partnerships that foster ingenuity to solve a collective societal problem.
In short: don’t clip the wings of business jets. Let’s get green aviation off the ground together.