Oct. 19, 2023

With business aviation’s strong emphasis on sustainability and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as demonstrated through the recently announced Climbing. Fast. initiative, operators may have difficulty separating ‘facts’ from ‘fiction’ about what they need to know and the actions they should take. An Innovation Zone session at the 2023 NBAA business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) aimed to clear the air.

Panel moderator Stewart D’Leon, NBAA director of environmental and technical operations, kicked things off with the question that’s front-of-mind for many: “Why are we doing this? What is the value for business aviation, specifically, in going down this path of being more sustainable?”

After all, stemming aviation carbon emissions may not seem important, as globally the entire industry represents 2% of all emissions. For business aviation specifically, the figure is even less: 0.04%.

“It sounds small, but the growth rate of aviation is fantastic,” said Qinyin Zhang, who works on electric powerplant development for commuter aircraft at Rolls-Royce. “Global aviation will double every 20 years [and] the ratio of aviation carbon emission will increase by this factor. We still need to catch up [with] other industries like the automotive industry, they are doing fantastic work.”

While hybrid, electric and hydrogen fuel cell propulsion offer tremendous potential in the future, those technologies aren’t feasible for long distance flights today, or easily retrofittable to current designs. Fortunately, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) derived from renewable feedstocks can yield real and sizable benefits right now.

“It is a true drop-in replacement,” said Elise Fox with World Fuels. “I like to refer people back to a really great, multi-agency report called “The U.S. Roadmap to Decarbonize Aviation,” put out by the Departments of Energy and Agriculture. It analyzed all sectors of transportation, and it specifically said the only real way we have to decarbonize aviation in the next 20 to 30 years is SAF.”

Even if SAF isn’t available, operators may contribute to reducing emissions through book-and-claim services and utilizing carbon credits to offset their emissions. That includes spilled fuel, deicing fluid and other sources that may not be apparent to operators at first.

Alvadi Serpa, Jr., product strategy leader for Embraer Executive Jets, encouraged operators to embrace sustainability, even if they only start small. He added that NBAA’s Sustainable Flight Department Accreditation Program can help guide that process.

“Acknowledge there is a problem,” Serpa said. “Identify the steps involved, start understanding how much you’re putting out in terms of emissions and then try to start reducing that. Keep going over and over, repeating the cycle to the point you see the reductions and you can be proud of it. And then do it again.”

That said, sustainability shouldn’t be viewed solely as added costs or tasks for flight departments. The push toward a greener industry carries additional follow-on benefits as well.

“If we didn’t have a climate change issue, there would be no need for us to strive for better fuel efficiency, other than economics,” said Puja Mahajan, CEO of sustainability consultancy Azzera. “There would be no need [to develop] electric or hybrid electric aircraft, for example. I don’t know if eVTOLs would be developed without this climate change issue. So, it’s driving innovation, which is actually quite interesting and exciting.”

Learn more about Climbing. Fast.

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