Airline group pushes sustainability
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Airline group pushes sustainability

Move towards new aviation fuel

An airplane refuels at Suvarnabhumi airport. Mr Walsh says he noticed progress in the industry's commitment to the environment, such as adopting sustainable aviation fuel.
An airplane refuels at Suvarnabhumi airport. Mr Walsh says he noticed progress in the industry's commitment to the environment, such as adopting sustainable aviation fuel.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for more commitments to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from producers and airlines next year to help them hit net-zero targets, although Thai Airways has not yet agreed to purchase the fuel.

IATA director-general Willie Walsh said he noticed progress in the airline industry's commitment to the environment, including adopting SAF, investing in carbon capture, and using technology that can help improve operational performance.

In 2021, the airline members of IATA committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation has been implemented by governments around the world, requiring airlines to report annual carbon emissions and carbon offsets, with a target of 85% of 2019 emissions from 2024 until 2035.

IATA forecasts that SAF will account for 65% of the carbon mitigation, or about 1.16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, by the end of 2050.

Going forward, the challenge will be how to scale up these existing technologies as well as evaluating how political support could help, said Mr Walsh.

For example, he disagreed with proposals to ban short-haul flights as there is still demand for them, especially on routes that are not served by railways.

Whether such a proposal could really reduce carbon emissions should be debated to ensure that measures lead to improvements in environmental performance, said Mr Walsh.

According to Hemant Mistry, energy transition director at IATA, SAF production is estimated to be at least 300 million litres, or 240,000 tonnes, by the end of this year, an increase of more than 200% from last year, although it represents only 0.1% of global jet fuel production.

However, Mr Mistry said there was clearly growing demand from airlines, despite the high price, so production needs to be ramped up.

IATA studies found more than 70 producers are capable of producing 61.3 billion litres, or 49 million tonnes, of renewable fuel by 2027.

Such data suggests it would be possible for the fuel to grow to 80 million tonnes of capacity by 2030, with SAF production accounting for 30%, or around 24 million tonnes, of total renewable fuels, in line with aviation needs.

Airplanes dock at Suvarnabhumi airport. In 2021, airline members under IATA committed to achieve net zero in carbon emissions by 2050. SOMCHAI POOMLARD

Despite this potential, production challenges remain including a large concentration in a few regions in Europe and the Americas, as well as being mostly based on hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids, such as those produced from cooking oil.

He expects the producer geolocation and production pathways to become more balanced by 2030.

Many Asia-Pacific carriers have already signed offtake contracts with producers to deliver SAF, including Korean Airlines, ANA, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Cebu Pacific.

However, there has been no official SAF purchase agreement from Thai Airways, said Daniel Bloch, assistant manager for sustainable aviation fuel at IATA.

Even a small secured volume provides a good starting opportunity for airlines to understand SAF across all of their operations, said Mr Bloch.

He expects more airlines across the world, including in Asean, to commit to SAF offtake agreements with producers in the short term because airlines at a collective level have already recognised SAF as an important driver for achieving net-zero targets.

On the producer side, SET-listed energy conglomerate Bangchak Corporation was the first to commit to producing SAF in Thailand.

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