October 10, 2022

ICAO’s General Assembly ended in Montreal last week, and the main headline that came out of it was Govt representatives agreeing to a goal of aviation net zero by 2050.

Given that ICAO has almost 200 members and includes countries such as China, which have previously pushed back on decarbonisation efforts, that’s no small achievement, even though the announcement is only an “aspiration.”A lot of emphasis at ICAO had been on CORSIA, the industry-wide scheme that offsets emissions when they pass 85% of 2019 levels, so this announcement comes on top of this.

In a previous newsletter, we reported that one environmental pressure group, Transport & Environment (T&E) had called CORSIA a “climate absurdity”, despite having been involved in developing ICAO’s offsetting standards.

As a result, it’s no surprise that T&E is now calling the ICAO announcement “an empty goal” and a “smokescreen.”

However, other voices that have in the past been sceptical about aviation’s efforts to decarbonise were more positive.

For example, Dan Rutherford, Program Director at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) commented:

“The agreement, along with the weakening of the CORSIA baseline, signals a clear turn away from offsetting and towards national measures to reduce emissions from planes and fuels.”

A rapid increase in SAF production is key

The ICCT has put forward various scenarios for aviation including one where the industry can align with the Paris agreement goals. We’ve included the relevant graphic above.

This assumes a large investment in Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), and a modest contribution by zero-emission aircraft.

To us that seems realistic and sensible for a very simple reason:

The global commercial airline fleet of 25,000 aircraft will be flying for decades to come. That means drop-in fuels, ideally E-Fuels made from renewable energy, will be key.

How much of an investment will be required? Simple Flying carried an interview with Shell Aviation’s Global President Jan Toschka, where the figure of $1.45 trillion is mentioned.

However, in the medium to long term, the development of zero emissions technologies is clearly important.

Dan Rutherford was a guest on season one of the “Sustainability in the Air” podcast, listen to it here.

(Above image via the ICCT)

One example of a company developing zero or low-emissions aircraft is Electra, which is featured in our brand new next gen aircraft report. Read and download it for free here.

Electra is developing small (nine-seat) eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) aircraft that will probably be on many of the same kinds of routes served by eVTOL aircraft.

However, it does off and land in a ‘conventional’ way, just with only a very short 300-foot runway required.

It can also carry more passengers, with most eVTOLs right now only being capable of transporting four people and a pilot.

In September, Electra successfully completed a fully integrated test of its proprietary hybrid-electric propulsion system.

The company also bought eSTOL competitor Airflow in June, integrating its technology and its order book into its own.

The result is that Electra now has 800 pre-orders for its aircraft.

That includes orders from Singapore-based Private Air Mobility Platform Yugo, the US Air Force, Germany’s flyv, and El Azufre, a 21st-century‘ clean-energy ski resort’ located in the Andes Mountains.

In addition to developing its hybrid-electric aircraft, Electra recently carried out a test flight of a solar-battery hybrid electric research aircraft.

That particular aircraft, named Dawn One, is part of the Stratospheric Airborne Climate Observatory System (SACOS) program, supported by a contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

(Above image via Electra)

Previous Newsletters

In Conversation: Jeremy Bowen, Cirium


In Conversation: Adam Goldstein, Archer Aviation


In Conversation: Airbus’ Amanda Simpson


Report: The Rise of Green Travel 2023 – 2028

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