Europe’s aviation sector just unveiled its flagship sustainability initiative, Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation. Driven by the independent work of the research consortium Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre and SEO Amsterdam Economics, Destination 2050’s roadmap shows a decarbonisation pathway that combines new technologies, improved operations, sustainable aviation fuels and smart economic measures in achieving net zero CO2 emissions from European aviation by 2050.
The modelling of Destination 2050 envisages a reduction of 293 Mt CO2 (Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2050, compared with a hypothetical reference scenario where no sustainability measures are implemented.
Improvements in aircraft and engine technologies (-37%)
– 30% improvement in fuel efficiency for the largest single and twin-aisle aircraft
– 50% improvement for regional aircraft based on hybrid-electric propulsion
– Regional hydrogen-powered aircraft (by 2035)
Sustainable Aviation Fuels (-34%)
– Exponential scale-up of SAFs from 2030, including blending to 100%
– 83% of total fuel consumption by 2050
Economic measures (-8%)
– Emissions trading – i.e. the EU ETS
– Offsetting schemes – CORSIA
Improvements in ATM and aircraft operations (-6%)
In addition, the model foresees a reduction in demand due to the increased cost of these technologies, whilst maintaining a compound average annual growth rate in passenger numbers of 1.4%.
The report clearly demonstrates how many different technologies are needed to chip away at emissions and across all aspects of aviation operations. There is no single panacea for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; the solutions will vary with geography, economics, and demand.
A comprehensive analysis of SAF, for example, shows that even the cheapest fuel will be 4-5 times more expensive than existing Jet Fuel. The economics will only work with associated efficiency improvements, electrification where possible and supporting economic measures. Supplying enough SAF to meet the 2050 target from within the EU will be challenging. Europe has a limited capacity for sustainable biomass, requiring reliance on a wide range of feedstock sources.
Because of the specificities of the aviation sector, its global nature, the decarbonisation technologies available and the challenges linked to their adoption – there can be no sticking-plaster approach from other sectors. The route to net zero aviation will need a dedicated policy mix and the collaborative contribution of all actors of the aviation eco-system: airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers, air traffic controllers, passengers, and governments.
European aviation is able to be more ambitious for a number of reasons. This includes its slower projected traffic growth rates, given its higher level of maturity as a market; a greater level of advancement of the complex regulatory environment enabling such commitments; and crucially, greater political will.
The Destination 2050 initiative indeed maps out a possible pathway to net zero emissions. It demonstrates that the target is achievable, but it is not a guarantee of success. It is closely dependent on the capacity of policy-makers of Europe’s national governments, the EU and ICAO to back the aviation sector’s decarbonisation plans with regulatory, investment and fiscal incentives, whilst ensuring that this radical transformation does not reduce connectivity or make air travel less affordable.
The aviation industry is experiencing its worst crisis in modern history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, as led by the EU, efforts to make Europe the world’s first CO2 neutral continent by 2050 are only accelerating. This includes the decarbonization of European aviation. Destination 2050 signals European aviation’s unprecedented ambition and also its determination to lead aviation globally in cutting carbon emissions. But we cannot do this alone; success will require joint action. We are counting on EU leaders to embrace our initiative and help drive it forward.