Air Travel

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and what it means for the future of travel

  • An 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Other environmental benefits include improving air and water quality by lowering emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)
  • A boost to the farming community as they grow the biomass crops used in SAF production
  • Improved aircraft performance

The call for sustainable solutions

The call for sustainable solutions in aviation is more crucial than ever, given the unprecedented gravity of climate change.

But with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) costing up to three times more than conventional jet fuel, it poses a real challenge to airlines seeking a seamless transition to SAF compared to other fuel alternatives.

The future of air travel is undeniably linked to the need for a greener approach and SAFs are a critical component of the industry strategy for reducing carbon emissions.

The aviation industry can make big steps towards sustainability by putting the focus on using SAFs which significantly reduce carbon emissions in both current and future aircraft flights.

And that was really highlighted when Virgin Atlantic was given approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to make the world’s first 100% SAF flight over the Atlantic on November 28.

It was a significant milestone for the industry – ground tests had been a success with a Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine, using a SAF blend from Air bp and Virent.

The Boeing 787 flight – Flight 100 – from Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport used 60 tonnes of the SAF and highlighted how the industry needs to work together in a bid to meet the industry’s target of 10% SAF by 2030.

Flights to locations across the world

After touchdown, Shai Weiss, CEO, of Virgin Atlantic, said: “We did it. Flight100 touched down in New York. Flight100 has proven that if enough SAF is made, we will fly it. SAF is a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil derived jet fuel. Compatible with today’s engines, airframes and fuel infrastructure.

“This is our call to action. In the UK, the Government leaned in by launching this competition to fly Flight100, which now means we must move quickly to drive a policy that will create a UK SAF industry.

“Now, it’s time to work together to lead the way to a more sustainable future. That isn’t just about setting ambitious targets but taking action.”

Emirates is set to implement SAF for departures from Singapore and Amsterdam, contributing three million gallons to these crucial airports.

Among other airlines already embracing SAF are British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qantas, United, LHG, Vueling and AF KLM.

So things do seem to be heading in the right direction.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)

SAF is an alternative fuel derived from renewable sources that is said to reduce emissions from air transportation by up to 80%, fundamentally reshaping aviation into a less carbon-intensive mode of travel.

As SAFs incorporate by-products like animal fats, the availability of such fats is limited unless meat production upscales significantly.

However, this reliance on animal fats in SAF is unsustainable due to their scarcity, impacting other industries such as soap and pet food.

Consequently, suppliers in these sectors may be compelled to shift to palm oil, thereby posing challenges within their respective domains.

SAF is positioned as the frontline solution against climate change, with the UK domestic aviation sector setting a target to achieve zero net emissions by 2050.

Despite it being a key component in its role to meet ‘Jet Zero’ goals, the adoption of SAF faces challenges due to its high cost and limited global supply.

How will this impact business travel?

SAF will impact business travel by influencing the travel experience as well as the broader landscape.

It’s not just about the journey, it’s about making a real impact. It provides an opportunity for companies to align their operations with sustainability goals therefore enhancing their market position and meeting the expectations of environmentally-conscious clients.

Understandably there will be a short-term impact, however, in the long term, companies will gain a positive brand image and increase their competitiveness in the market.

Firstly, the cost implications are that it’s more expensive, meaning businesses will be facing higher travel costs.

Balancing growth, driven by increasing demand for air travel, and trying to reduce its environmental impact, will prove a challenge for the travel industry.

The impact on sustainability

A key impact is businesses in the modern day are focused on environmental sustainability meaning the use of SAF aligns with the corporate responsibility goals people advertise, therefore showcasing their commitments to reducing the carbon footprint associated with their travel operations.

Airlines like Lufthansa are enticing customers to use their sustainable flights, by offering free Wi-Fi and additional incentives to customers.

This strategic approach aims to encourage customers to travel sustainably by making greener choices.

For businesses that operate with tight travel budgets, the financial implications of airlines that implement SAF can pose a burden, making it challenging for businesses to effectively manage travel budgets.

Significant industry milestones

Virgin Atlantic has secured approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to reveal the world’s first 100% SAF flight over the Atlantic – due for take-off on November 28, 2023.

This is a significant milestone for the industry – ground tests have been a success with a Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine, using a SAF blend from Air bp and Virent.

The Boeing 787 flight from Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport will use 60 tonnes of the SAF and will highlight how the industry needs to work together in a bid to meet the industry’s target of 10% SAF by 2030.

The 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel transatlantic flight will be a historic moment in aviation’s roadmap to decarbonisation.

Alongside fleet transformation, SAF is the most readily available way for our industry to decarbonise, but currently there’s not enough supply and without it and the radical collaboration required to produce it, we can’t meet our 2030 targets.

We need UK government support to create a UK SAF industry to allow for every single flight out of the UK to operate with 100% SAF – if we make it, we can fly it.

Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic.

Emirates is set to implement SAF for departures from Singapore and Amsterdam, contributing three million gallons to these crucial airports.

Among other airlines already embracing SAF are British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qantas, United, LHG, Vueling and AF KLM.

The aviation industry is at a crossroads

The solutions?

The aviation industry is at a crossroads, figuring out how to boost SAF use because of its significant carbon emission reduction in comparison to current fuel use.

The European Union is pushing for a gradual increase in SAF usage.

They want fuel suppliers to ensure that 2% of fuel available at EU airports is SAF by 2025, with that figure increasing to 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035, and then 70% by 2050.

It’s not just a trend, businesses are advised to set aside a reserve budget for the adoption of SAF, supporting global sustainability goals.

According to Forbes (2023), a gallon of SAF emits between 50 and 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than conventional jet fuel.

Just the beginning

Top of the agenda for governments and industries is to address the current high costs of SAF and are teaming up to offer incentives and subsidies to ensure these sustainability targets are hit as soon as possible.

Just last week, the UK government awarded £53 million in funding to nine projects to produce more sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), including British Airways’ Project Speedbird production facility.

This is just the beginning as the aviation industry is expected to double to more than eight billion passengers by 2050.

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