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Martyn Fiddler Aviation invited Marc Bailey (CEO, BBGA) and Patrick Edmond (Managing Director, Altair Advisory) to participate in a discussion on the need to create a sustainable business aviation future.  

Key questions for Bailey and Edmond were: Can aviation become sustainable and by when? Why does business aviation need to create its own narrative on sustainability? Will investment into new technologies continue? And, what regulatory hurdles will aviation face?

What is going to create real change in aviation and what time scales are realistic?

“There is a lot of hype about hydrogen and new electric aircraft being developed” Edmond noted. “These new aircraft will come with time but will have initial drawbacks. For example, electric aircraft will initially be relatively small, regional aircraft while the notion of having hydrogen airliners that can transport a lot of people long distances is at least 20 years away”.

A key feature of business aviation is that it provides access to flying when you want, where you want and with who you want. In the short term however, new alternatively fuelled aircraft will demand an entirely new airport fuelling infrastructure, therefore contrasting the advantages of business aviation in the short term.

Edmond predicts “the biggest transformation over the next few years will come from sustainable fuel sources. SAF is going to be one of the hottest and most innovative developments in the industry to date. Whether influenced from mandates in the US and/or Europe, suppliers are actively exploring how to rapidly increase the production of SAF for market. The business aviation community is leading the way with SAF; one example is creating book and claim systems which has enabled the efficient uptake of SAF across the world”.

Aviation needs to have its own narrative on sustainability. However, who should be leading this – individual business or trade bodies like the BBGA?

As CEO of the BBGA, Bailey explained “the industry is very interested in creating its own narrative. Our members are continually discussing the fact there is too much greenwashing in the media and not enough focus on the transformation aviation is currently going through”.

The UK Government has announced its ambition to be a global leader in general aviation, however caution and realism are required. Bailey noted “In order to be ‘leaders’ we must make the UK highly attractive through the transformation process, which means we can’t shut down aviation coming into the UK or do anything to undermine it. The narrative must explain that while we are working as a community to transition to electrification, hydrogen, and other new aircraft technologies, this takes time. It is important to demonstrate our progress and not destroy our industry while we are getting there”.

Bailey went on to explain “We asked students at Stansted College how they thought aviation was performing as an industry in terms of fuel burn and environmental impact; in a nutshell, they perceived aviation as the ‘sinners of the universe.. Unfortunately, this view is shared widely outside of aviation. The wider public do not appreciate the comparatively small amounts aviation actually burns and what impact this has”.

“However, this is not a defence strategy” Bailey explained. “We can’t simply react every time a question is asked in the media. We must get the narrative that says we want to move forward as quickly as we possibly can. We need to put ourselves in a position to be world leaders, and that means creating a different narrative”.

In the commercial aviation sector, some airlines are taking a more proactive public narrative approach with clear statements about a movement away from carbon offsets (which have been widely discredited). EasyJet, for example, recently released a statement announcing they will no longer offset carbon emissions and instead invest funds into science-based targets initiative SPTI to focus on sustainable fuel. Edmond explained “we see many airlines buying into the sustainable fuel narrative. This has also attracted the interest of airline leasing companies and other commercial aviation sectors, all wanting to be seen to invest in sustainable fuel production and to accelerate sustainable fuel availability”.

Edmond noted “There is a great opportunity for the business aviation community to come together and proactively own the narrative around sustainable aviation fuel and demonstrate it is more than greenwashing”.

With multiple aircraft manufacturers competing for investment to develop new and sustainable aircraft, is there a risk this could this hinder global collaboration of new technologies to progress sustainable aviation quicker?

“There are many different technology providers innovating in the sustainable fuel production business at the moment” Edmond commented. “While some early movers have established pathways and initial technologies, before investors provide large capital investment, they want to understand demand for the product and projected revenue. At present information on the demand for sustainable fuel and technologies that will result in sales is vague”.

As SAF and new technologies develop it will become clearer to manufacturers where customer demand will come from and this will make investment easier. Further, it is likely that aviation will see a consolidation of small aviation development companies as larger businesses move quickly to acquire new technology ahead of rivals.

Do you feel there is a tension between the technological advances of aviation and the immediate politics of tax and regulation?

There is a current pressure on politicians to tax polluting industries. Bailey confirmed “HMRC are under pressure and conflicted when it comes to aviation fuel taxes; if sustainability is to be driven forward in the UK, then the tax applied to aviation fuel has to be amended. Trying to get people to take up SAF is not an easy battle because there is a big price difference compared to normal aviation fuel; unfortunately, not everyone has the conscience we would like. We have an opportunity to drive the market forward into widespread use and distribution of SAF; we must ensure all sectors are taking sustainability seriously”.

Willie Walsh, director general of the airline association IATA, has talked widely about public perception and acceptance of aviation. He has stressed that if airlines are to continue to fly and to develop, it will be contingent upon them taking environmental issues seriously.

More general aviation rules and policy are also being impacted by the pressure for aviation to become more sustainable. EU policy makers are preparing for a revision of the basic air services regulation; the rules much of commercial transport around Europe. It is clear these rules will be increasingly selective in what kind of aviation they want to support. Patrick noted “it comes back to setting a narrative – we must ensure aviation is working clearly and loudly toward a sustainable future rather than being perceived to be working against it”.

To learn more please visit our You Tube channel where you can our Sustainability & Talent webinar


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About the author

Heather Gordon is Legal Director at Martyn Fiddler Aviation. Heather joined the team in 2013 having previously practiced within a leading Isle of Man law ...

Contact Heather Gordon