The business aviation industry is “between a rock and a hard place” in Europe because environmental pressures are increasing and yet regulatory roadblocks are preventing progress, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce.
“A lot of the news has not been good as far as the approach of business aviation over there [in Europe],” Bunce said during his association’s annual State of the Industry press conference on Wednesday, referring to environmental activism activities such as the recent interruption of the start of the European Business Aviation Association’s AIROPS23 Conference in Brussels. Activists blocked the entrance to the ExecuJet FBO terminal at Brussels airport and also barged into the AIROPS23 event.
Bunce stressed the importance of the industry being able to move forward on sustainable initiatives, including bringing new technologies to market. He stressed that the availability of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is becoming critically important.
“But unfortunately the deployment strategy that is coming forward in Europe does not allow us access at business aviation airports to sustainable aviation fuel,” he said, “and what is happening is a large amount of taxes are going to be levied on our industry because we aren't using SAF. We can't get it and then we're going to be taxed because we can't get it.”
With limited supply, available SAF is first going to commercial use. In addition, with few production sites, the distribution to many business aviation airports becomes impractical, and there are regulatory barriers to getting SAF across some borders in Europe, business aviation leaders say.
However, Bunce added, “We're working those issues,” and further noted, “book-and-claim for us still becomes a very important tool in Europe.”
He reiterated the objective is to have an environment without fossil fuel burning in aircraft and noted OEMs throughout the industry are researching the use of 100 percent SAF.
As for handling the activism targeting the industry, GAMA chair and Simcom International president and CEO Eric Hinson pointed to the response of famed billionaire Bill Gates when questioned about his use of business jets. Hinson noted Gates stressed that he is not part of the problem and that he buys offsets, as well as invests in climate initiatives globally.
“There is specific action that people can take,” Hinson said. “But the reality is we're probably never, ever going to convince climate activists of that and that's probably not the people that we should focus on.”
Instead, Hinson said, the focus should be on people who may be watching those climate activists. “They're looking at it on a cost basis purely. We just need to make sure that they understand both sides of that equation.”
He noted these issues are throughout the transportation system and said he would argue that general aviation is probably more active than many on the sustainability front.
When asked, most business aviation leaders have said they have not yet seen this activism have a significant impact, but the concern remains that it will take a toll in the future if business aviation’s story on sustainability does not get told.