Cleaning up the skies – the Jet Zero initiative
The Government’s target is to reach net zero aviation by 2050. The challenge is that, as it stands, aviation is expected to become one of the largest carbon emitting sectors by this date. The Jet Zero initiative aims to break the link between increased demand for air travel and rising global temperatures.
How will Jet Zero be achieved?
In a recently published report, the Department for Transport set out its strategy for achieving net zero. The strategy has three main goals: clear decarbonisation targets to reach net zero aviation by 2050; all domestic flights to be net zero by 2040; and all airport operations in England to be net zero emission by 2040.
As part of this strategy, the Department of Transport will publish a five-yearly delivery plan. This will set out the specific actions that need to be taken in the coming years to achieve the core targets, and will be structured around the following three main principles:
- International leadership
The majority of the UK’s aviation emissions come from international flights, which means that international collaboration is essential in order to tackle the problem. The UK is working closely with the International Civil Aviation Authority to put in place a long-term aspirational goal for CO2 emissions arising from international aviation.
- Delivered in partnership
To achieve the net zero target, all parts of the aviation sector need to work together collaboratively to implement the agreed solutions, otherwise it simply won’t work. A Jet Zero Council made up of the key stakeholders (Government, industry and academia) has been set up to co-ordinate and lead the initiative.
- Maximising opportunities
Not only will the Jet Zero initiative decarbonise air travel, but it will also create new jobs, industries and technologies across the entire sector. As we transition away from traditional fossil fuels to sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), the demand for them and the logistics to deliver them will increase. We will need more suppliers and operators in the supply chain, and so a new industry will be born.
Energy providers, Phillips 66, made history in March 2022 with its first ever delivery of SAF to the UK’s leading airline, British Airways, as part of a new multiyear supply agreement. The fuel is produced from sustainable waste feedstock at a refinery in the UK. British Airways will be adding the SAF into its existing pipeline infrastructure which feeds into several UK airports. British Airways has confirmed that the inclusion of their SAF will reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions by almost 100,000 tons and could power 700 flights between London and New York in its fuel-efficient Boeing 787 aircraft.
Electric aircraft company, Heart Aerospace, has created a new regional electric aeroplane named ES-30. It has a full electric rangr of 200 km when carrying 30 passengers, and is capable of reaching up to 800 km with a hybrid engine when carrying 25 passengers. ES-30 is driven by electric motors powered by batteries allowing the aeroplane to operate with zero emissions. Air Canada has announced an order for 30 new ES-30’s alongside a $5 million equity stake in Heart Aerospace. The new aircraft is expected to enter into service in 2028. There are other airlines too, such as United Airlines and Mesa Air Group, who have placed orders totalling 200 electric aeroplanes with an option for 100 additional aeroplanes.
We will of course need much greater capacity and larger aircraft to fly longer distances, but it is a start and the potential for technological advancement should never be underestimated.
Can the 2050 target really be achieved?
In its report, the Department for Transport itself recognises that its target of net zero by 2050 is hugely challenging and is one of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world. The challenge is compounded by a sector heavily reliant on fossil fuels and still recovering from the devastating effects of COVID-19. However, with the pandemic came an opportunity to rebuild the industry in a stronger, fairer and greener way, ensuring that aviation plays its vital role in making the changes necessary to achieve net zero by 2050.
As long as there is the necessary blend of consumer demand, an airline sector determined to buy into change and a supportive Government and international agenda, Jet Zero will be achievable. What remains to be seen is whether technology can develop at a rate necessary to reach the 2050 target.
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