Efforts to achieve carbon-free flights must form a key part of plans to rebuild the aviation industry, according to UK business, energy, and industrial strategy minister Nadhim Zahawi. Speaking in a webinar as part of the FIA Connect event on Tuesday, he reported that the newly announced Jet Zero Council will meet soon, bringing together senior leadership from government and industry to set a strategy for achieving the goal of net-zero emissions for long- and short-haul air transport by 2050.
“While we are combating Covid we need to still work on longer-term priorities for the industry, and decarbonization of transport is critical,” said Zahawi. He confirmed that UK transport secretary Grant Shapps is planning to launch a consultation on aviation and climate change later this year and said that the government is committed to helping the UK industry take leading role in the field.
According to Giles Wilkes, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Government, it might prove complicated to introduce a workable mix of incentives and disincentives to drive progress in making aviation greener. However, he pointed to the fact that wind energy growth has surpassed expectations as evidence of the possible progress.
“There is not the equivalent demand-led trend that we have seen in the electricity sector,” he suggested. “In current circumstances, it will be hard to make flying more expensive with taxes [that would discourage growth in aircraft emissions], but there might be progress [to wider adoption of new technology] if electricity prices keep falling.”
Mandy Ridyard, finance director with UK-based flight controls and components manufacturer Produmax, called on the government to provide incentives for companies throughout the supply chain to retrain employees in green technology and take steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. “We need to move on this and be ready to work with Boeing and Airbus so that we can take advantage of breakthroughs in technology,” she commented.
Former Airbus chief operating officer Tom Williams, who is now leading the UK Aerospace Supply Chain Taskforce established by industry group ADS, said that it is no longer optional for aviation to decarbonize. “Although air transport is still only 3 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, the rate is doubling every 15 years and if we don’t address this we will come under [social] pressure, especially from younger people who are more conscious [of environmental concerns],” he said.
Williams proposed that governments introduce financial incentives for airlines to replace old, inefficient aircraft with new equipment in a move that he compared to the so-called “cash for clunkers” campaign to get old automobiles off the road. He said that aerospace companies wanting to introduce new technology will have to engage urgently with Boeing and Airbus with workable proposals needed by around 2027 or 2028, “or you won’t be on the next-generation aircraft due in 2035.” In his view, hydrogen propulsion systems will emerge as the dominant platform for decarbonization.