In the latest edition of our podcast, we speak with our own Shashank Nigam (CEO) and Dirk Singer (Head of Sustainability), authors of the brand new book, Sustainability in the Air.
In a role reversal, Shashank, typically our podcast host, became the interviewee, fielding inquiries along with Dirk from SimpliFlying’s sustainability specialist, Ayushi Badola.
With ever more people taking to the skies and airlines placing record aircraft orders, Sustainability in the Air is a book which provides a look into the multifaceted challenges that the aviation industry confronts as it endeavours to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint.
The book casts an eye on both the growing group of industry outsiders, primarily startups pioneering novel technologies for decarbonisation, and aviation stalwarts striving for transformation from within.
The dialogue touched on several elements of the book, including the following:
The Craft of Crafting a Compelling Book (5:20)
Culling the Compelling Stories (10:33)
Inspirations for Sustainable Aviation (14:55)
The biggest obstacles (24:12)
Eight Decarbonisation Principles for Aviation (31:51)
An Invitation to Engage in Live Discourse (50:29)
Keep reading for a quick overview of the episode.
Crafting a Compelling Narrative
The process of creating a book is no mean feat, as Shashank can attest. He already boasts a successful book, SOAR, which delves into the triumphs of airline marketing success stories from across the globe.
Dirk, on the other hand, ventured into book authorship for the first time. With his extensive repertoire of published articles and reports, the task of writing a book initially appeared deceptively straightforward. However, the publisher’s initial edits prompted substantial rewrites, quickly disabusing him of this notion.
Dirk embraced this challenge as a learning opportunity, culminating in a smooth final chapter review, which only saw two edits being made. In all, this book underwent a very quick process, from inception to publication, spanning just eight months — a remarkably swift timeline for a work of this nature and complexity.
Selecting the Compelling Stories
The aviation landscape is full of innovators striving to decarbonise the industry. How could this be pared down to only nine chapters?
Choosing the legacy aviation companies featured in the book proved comparatively straightforward, as only a select few airlines can genuinely be deemed pioneers.
As Shashank said, “For some airlines, we initially penned full chapters after conducting interviews. Yet, in the end, we reconsidered, realising that these chapters may not stand the test of time, as they were primarily at the early stages of sustainability initiatives or were entwined with ESG or CSR efforts. This book is about sustainability in the air, not ESG in the air.”
In the case of the industry outsiders, the focus rested on firms well on their way to commercialisation, accompanied by compelling narratives.
Aviation’s Sustainable Inspiration: Pioneering Solutions
While Greta Thunberg chose a carbon-neutral catamaran to cross the Atlantic in late 2019 as an alternative to flying, her compatriots, Anders and Klara Forslund, approached aviation’s net-zero challenge differently.
They embarked on creating an entirely new electric aircraft, known today as the ES-30, which has garnered orders from prominent carriers such as SAS, United, and Air Canada.
Meanwhile, New York-based Air Company began its journey by converting captured CO2 into vodka, followed by the production of perfume. Today, they employ the same technology to produce sustainable aviation fuel.
Overcoming the Hurdles
If the solutions to decarbonise aviation exist, why aren’t we seeing much faster progress towards a net zero goal?
According to Dirk, the biggest impediment can be summarised in one word: money.
The process of bringing a clean-sheet aircraft to market entails an expenditure of $1 billion or more.
This journey spans at least five years, a period during which earnings are scarce. In this phase, extensive work encompasses design, business case development, and hiring seasoned professionals well-versed in every aspect, from certification to production. All this requires significant capital investment.
Eight Decarbonisation Imperatives for Aviation
In the closing chapter, the authors recommend eight guiding principles that the aviation industry must adhere to in order to attain a net-zero carbon future. In summary, they are:
Linking future growth to sustainability objectives
Combining incentives and mandates
Implementing the ‘polluter pays’ principle with a ticket levy for a ‘clean skies fund’
Focusing on global equity to avoid leaving the Global South behind
Ensuring that aviation doesn’t take more than its fair share of resources
Enhancing credibility through transparent, audited targets
Fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing through initiatives such as the SkyTeam Sustainable Flight Challenge, featured in the book
Working towards “true zero” by fostering innovation with technologies such as hydrogen and electric aviation
For a more comprehensive exploration of these principles, we have issued a separate white paper.
Additionally, the book offers a series of recommendations for individuals who are concerned about air travel and their own carbon footprint.
As Shashank puts it, “The next time you’re flying, let’s have this conversation around the dinner table with your friends. Hey, do we need to fly this long only for this trip? Is there a train alternative? Can we combine trips, for example?”
Join the Conversation Live
The book is readily available for purchase on Amazon. The authors are scheduled to attend a number of industry events in November and December, offering an opportunity for live engagement. This includes the forthcoming Dubai Air Show in just two weeks’ time.
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‘Sustainability in the Air’ is the world’s leading podcast dedicated to sustainable aviation. Through in-depth conversations with top aviation leaders, we break through the clutter and provide a clear roadmap for a net-zero future.