Aviation and Net Zero

By Alchemmy’s Ryan Newsam

In recent years, the aviation industry has focused increasingly on the need to reduce CO2 emissions.  The UK has led this movement, being the first major aviation sector to commit to achieving net zero by 2050.  The UK government held a consultation in 2021 on what it termed Jet zero: our strategy for net zero aviation. We expect to see the outcome later this year.  And in May 2022, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the aviation sector, in collaboration with government, would launch the first net zero transatlantic flight in 2023.

This focus on net zero has seen many large players in the UK aviation sector, such as Heathrow Airport, IAG/British Airways and easyJet, commit to ambitious strategic goals. IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh recently gave an excellent summary, stating that, “Net zero by 2050 will require a global transition for aviation to new fuels, technology and operations.”

The industry must accept that to achieve net zero, there will be fundamental changes required at all levels in aviation.  At the moment, net-zero strategies are heavily focused on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), aircraft technology and carbon offsetting. But there is still much that the industry needs to do. All parties should focus on:

Ground Handling Equipment. Across the industry, there is still great reliance on equipment that uses fossil fuels.  There are many vehicles on an airfield, not just aircraft. For every flight, multiple vehicular movements are involved. This offers opportunities for reducing carbon emissions.  British Airways has led the way in recent years with the use of Mototok electric pushback tugs at their Heathrow base. However, these are currently limited to short haul operations. And there are opportunities to transition other ramp vehicles away from fossil fuels.

Products. Several airlines have been looking at the removal of Single Use Plastics (SUPs) from their onboard products. Generally, progress on SUPs has been slow but some airlines have taken significant steps. Iberojet has eliminated SUPs from its service, while LATAM has committed to do so by 2023. Virgin Atlantic has unveiled a new amenity kit for premium customers, which includes recycled materials and non-plastic items such as bamboo handle toothbrush. There needs to be a similar focus in ground operations across the industry.

Infrastructure and operations. Current airport infrastructure relies largely on old designs and technology. These should be updated to make them more efficient. There should be greater use of sustainable sources of energy and sustainable materials, and redoubled efforts to reduce waste.

Strategy. Aviation companies must develop clear strategies to help the industry as a whole achieve net zero. Strategies must then be filtered down to every area of operations and embedded in staff behaviours at all organisational levels.  Heathrow Airport has given a strong commitment to sustainability, set out in their Heathrow 2.0 plan. It has already moved towards use of renewable electricity.  But its stated goal to work with partners on reducing single use materials continues to need focus.

At Alchemmy, we are skilled in helping deliver change and can help companies develop and implement sustainable long-term strategies.

Written by

Sam Smitherman

Published on

34th October 2022


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