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EU-US Safe and Sustainable Aviation Webinar marks 10th anniversary of bilateral safety agreement

01 July 2021

To mark the 10th anniversary of the bilateral safety agreement between the EU and the US, a webinar on Safe and Sustainable Aviation was held by the European Commission’s DG MOVE and the US Federal Aviation Administration. 

Axel Krein, Clean Sky’s Executive Director, joined the panel on sustainability to discuss how the aviation sector in both the US and the EU can move towards a more environmentally-friendly fleet. 

“European aviation has agreed to a climate-neutrality target by 2050,” said Axel, explaining that Clean Sky is convinced that 30-50% of the required green-house gas emission reduction can come from aircraft-based technologies, including innovations in the field of airframe, propulsion and engines. 

Axel also spoke about the need to make the air traffic management system more efficient, which he said could account for 10% of the total CO2 reduction target. The remaining % will be based on using Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

“Making the aircraft itself and the air traffic management system more efficient will reduce the overall demand for fuel,” he said. “In that way the aviation ecosystem will avoid investing too much in the infrastructure for scaling up sustainable aviation fuel production above the quantities needed.”

When questioned about the potential of hydrogen, Axel said: “I believe that hydrogen is the ultimate solution to achieve climate neutrality in aviation. Either we can burn hydrogen in a combustion engine, which totally eliminates CO2 and reduces other emissions significantly, or we use fuel cells with an even higher greenhouse gas reduction potential, this solution becoming first available for shorter-range aircraft.”

Hydrogen usage presents us with some challenges at aircraft level that have yet to be overcome: it is three times the volume of current fuel but with a lower weight. The challenges will have to be addressed during the coming years via extensive research efforts, as well as for the ground infrastructure. 

“It’s worthwhile going for it because in our opinion it’s the solution in the mid- to long-term, with first applications targeted for passenger aircraft service by 2035” said Axel. 

Looking to the global nature of both aviation and climate change, the panellists outlined what the future would look like, with a sustainable fleet in the skies. The panellists were realistic about the outlook: 

“Clearly for very long-haul flights we will use more traditional aircraft but with sustainable aviation fuel on board,” said Filip Cornelis, the Director of Aviation for DG MOVE.  

But the emphasis on joint agreements and working together towards a common goal was clear. 

“Climate change measures are only effective if they are implemented globally,” said Laurence Wildgoose of the FAA. “We need ICAO to help shape the international standards so that they can provide a level playing field for everyone as we reduce emissions.”

While the EU and the US in general agreed on their goals for sustainable aviation, they differ on how they intend to get there. The European Commission, represented by Filip Cornelis, the Director of Aviation for DG MOVE, favoured the idea of mandatory usage rates for sustainable aviation fuels while the Americans on the panel, Laurence Wildgoose of the FAA and Nancy Young of Airlines for America, were advocating for more voluntary measures. 

Filip Cornelis defended the idea of a mandatory rate by saying: “We see a market failure in terms of sustainable aviation fuels – there’s very little production and very little demand. The price gap between sustainable aviation fuels and fossil fuels is large.”

Nancy Young repeated her desire to see tax incentives for the aviation industry from the government to facilitate a shift to sustainable aviation fuels. 

“We really need to ramp up the incentives, like through the blended tax credits, like through the research and development to get those supply chains more aggressive. Down the line, there could be an overarching policy like a mandate if there is a sufficient supply.”

The panel agreed overall on the benefits of public-private partnerships, and said that industry and government need to work together to achieve the sustainable aviation goals.