Sustainable aviation fuel is our way to build back a better world: IATA

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged the International Energy Agency (IEA) to prioritise investments in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to help power aviation’s contribution to the post-COVID-19 recovery.

The call comes on the eve of the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit, which will meet virtually to debate moves towards a low-carbon future. In a statement on Thursday, IATA also emphasised the aviation industry’s commitment to its emissions reduction goals.

“The world must ‘build back better’ from the COVID-19 crisis with attention focused on investment in carbon reduction technologies and in SAF, which will create jobs at this critical time and boost aviation’s progress towards its goal to cut aviation emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050,” it added.

IATA said the current SAF production rates are too low for aviation to reach this goal despite its proven potential and airline efforts to-date.

SAF is capable of cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) lifecycle emissions by up to 80% compared with conventional jet fuel, and it uses sustainable fuel sources which do not compete with food or water, or damage biodiversity.

After having gone through extensive testing and due to investments from airlines, SAF has been certified as safe, sustainable and ready-to-use, with over 250,000 flights taking off with a blend of SAF.

“The enormous amount of money that governments are investing in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery is an opportunity to create a legacy of energy transition for the aviation industry.

“To achieve this, governments, the financial community and the fuel producers – both large and small – must work together with the goal of rapidly increasing production of affordable SAF,” said IATA’s director-general and chief executive officer, Alexandre de Juniac. He said IATA estimates that the current SAF production is at 50 million litres annually.

To reach a tipping point where the scale of production will see SAF costs dropping to levels competitive with jet fuel, production needs to reach seven billion litres or 2% of 2019 consumption.

“As much as airlines want to use SAF, production is well below the scale needed for prices to fall to competitive levels. Attaining the right price point is even more crucial as industry losses and debt levels rise. But if governments can use this unique time to combine a safe fiscal and regulatory framework supporting SAF production, with the direct allocation of stimulus funds to SAF production, it is possible to reach the two per cent tipping point in 2025,” said de Juniac.

He said the move would power greener flights, create jobs and fuel the economic recovery, adding that IATA and the wider aviation community are ready to work with the IEA, governments and fuel companies to cut aviation emissions with SAF.

“SAF is our biggest emissions reduction opportunity. The time is right to push it forward so that, together, we can achieve major carbon reductions on the way towards fossil fuel-free flight,” de Juniac added.