Air cargo to lead aviation in carbon reduction

By Damian Brett

Air cargo is set to lead the aviation world in the adoption of green initiatives, with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) proving to be the best way for the industry to reduce its carbon emissions.

Speaking at the IATA World Cargo Symposium, the airline group’s director general Willie Walsh said that shippers had been driving carbon reduction across the supply chain.

“There has been a significant focus from shippers on the industry,” Walsh said. “We are probably seeing more pressure from the cargo side of the business to accelerate the decarbonisation, whether that is through offsetting or SAF, than we have seen on the passenger side.

“Cargo is leading the way when it comes to sustainability, which is probably not the image people outside the air cargo business have so it has been interesting to see that.”

IATA’s head of cargo Brendan Sullivan also said that shippers were driving change.

“Sustainability is our license to grow,” Sullivan said. “Shippers are becoming more environmentally conscious and held accountable for their emissions by their customers.

“Many are now reporting how much their supply chains produce in emissions, and they are looking for carbon-neutral transportation options. We all need to meet customer expectations for the highest standards of sustainability.”

At IATA’s AGM earlier this month, airlines committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The strategy is to abate as much CO2 as possible from in-sector solutions such as SAF, new aircraft technology, more efficient operations and infrastructure, and the development of new zero-emissions energy sources such as electric and hydrogen power.

Sebastian Mikosz, IATA senior vice president environment and sustainability, said that SAF will contribute around 65% of the emissions reductions needed in 2050.

This will require SAF production to increase from 100m litres today to at least 449bn litres in 2050.

New aircraft technologies, such as electric, hybrid and hydrogen powered aircraft, are expected to contribute around 13% of the reduction needed by 2050.

Operations and infrastructure will contribute around 3% of the reduction, Mikosz said.

This includes technologies such as retro-fitted winglets, light-weight seating, fuel efficiency systems, reduced engine taxiing and air traffic management programmes.

The remaining 19% reduction is expected to come from offsetting and carbon capture.

However, Walsh said the industry needed to utilise credible offsetting schemes.

“Credible offsetting is the key,” said Walsh. “Without question offsetting has developed a bad name in some areas because the credibility of some of the offsets could and should be challenged.”

He added: “If you are going to spend money offsetting CO2 there must be a genuine environmental benefit because some of the general offsetting schemes that some people have put forward, it is questionable if they would achieve the goal.”

He added that the schemes adopted by the aviation industry tend to be of a higher quality than many because of the governance of the International Civil Aviation Organization through its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme.

Dorothea von Boxberg, Lufthansa Cargo chief executive, later outlined how the airline was already taking steps to reduce its emissions.

These included four key areas: SAF, fuel efficiency, compensation and fleet modernisation.

She said that its modern B777F fleet would offer a 52% reduction in C02 emissions compared with its fleet 25 years ago.

Elsewhere the carrier was applying “sharkskin” film to aircraft to reduce drag, using lightweight containers and implementing flight optimisation procedures.

 The airline is also ramping up its use of SAF, von Boxberg said, even looking to utilise Power-to-Liquid fuel technology.

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