BA CEO: Zero Carbon Aviation Solutions Will Take 30 Years

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Zero carbon aviation solutions remain around 30 years away, according to British Airways CEO Sean Doyle. Along with its parent, the British flag carrier was the first to commit to generating net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. As such, the airline has been investing in solutions to attempt to reduce its CO2 emissions.

British Airways, Carbon zero, Hydrogen
British Airways’ CEO believes that zero-carbon aviation solutions are still a long way off. Photo: British Airways

Across the aviation industry, there is currently a heavy emphasis on the industry’s environmental impact and sustainability. According to IATA, aviation is presently responsible for around 2-3% of global carbon emissions. For comparison, according to the European Parliament, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions.

Zero carbon is a long way off

It seems that we’re still a long way off of carbon zero aviation, according to Sean Doyle. Speaking to CAPA Live yesterday, Doyle commented,

“I think it will take till 2050 for aviation to have things like zero carbon aviation solutions from a technical perspective.”

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However, the industry is keen to start making changes now, not in thirty years. As such, multiple parties are currently involved in increasing Sustainable Aviation Fuels’ (SAFs) feasibility. These are currently available in small quantities for high prices. However, numerous industry leaders are attempting to increase the supply of such fuels to reduce the cost.

British Airways, Carbon zero, Hydrogen
The IAG group has committed to net carbon zero emissions by 2050. Photo: British Airways

Easy to integrate

British Airways alone is looking to build 14 SAF production plants in the UK. Doyle points out that it is possible to integrate SAFs easily into the fuel chain, and they can substitute kerosene without any modification needed to an aircraft. Given how far away zero-carbon solutions are, the CEO believes that SAFs will be vital to the industry for the next 20-30 years.

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Interestingly, Doyle claims that it doesn’t matter who uses SAFs, but rather who buys them. He commented,

“Airlines don’t have to ship it to various airports because they can take credit for their commitment to SAF no matter who actually uses it in the ecosystem.”

British Airways, Carbon zero, Hydrogen
SAFs are essential to lower gross emissions. Photo: British Airways

What are Sustainable Aviation Fuels?

SAFs are made from combining regular kerosene-based aviation fuel with renewable hydrocarbons. Because the fuel is still classified as “Jet-A1,” ground workers can place it straight into an aircraft’s tanks. Across a lifecycle, SAFs can reduce CO2 emissions by 80%. But how do they manage this?

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When fossil fuels are burnt, the world’s net carbon increases, as it was previously locked away, and now joins the global ecosystem. However, in the case of SAFs, the renewable part comes from plant-based products. While plants are growing, they absorb roughly the amount of carbon emitted when the fuel is burned. While the carbon is still emitted into the atmosphere, it is recycled rather than adding new carbon to the atmosphere.

What about hydrogen?

British Airways is also actively targeting hydrogen-powered flight. The airline is in a joint venture with ZeroAvia, a company looking to make hydrogen flight a reality. So far, they have powered a small turboprop aircraft with their new technology.

British Airways, Carbon zero, Hydrogen
British Airways and ZeroAvia are working on hydrogen-powered flight. Photo: British Airways

ZeroAvia hopes to have a 20 seater that can fly 500 miles ready as early as 20204. However, the company wants to have a 100 seater single-aisle aircraft ready in just nine years. While this seems a long way off, Doyle highlighted how important it was to start investing now,

“[Hydrogen is] more radical, and I think it will take longer, but we’ve got to start placing bets right now to find a solution that will get us to net zero in terms of technology over the next 20 or 30 years.”

Do you think the industry will be able to move to zero-carbon solutions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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