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European aviation sector lays out path to net-zero by 2050

Europe’s aviation sector has published a study describing how it could cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 through technological advances and expansion of sustainable fuel use.

The EU is aiming to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The carbon-intense aviation sector – which has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic – faces as particularly tough challenge cutting its emissions in line with this target.

The study is backed by aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airports, and other parties in the sector, and was prepared by ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe, manufacturing group ASD, air traffic control body CANSO, and airline association ERA. It says that it is possible for the industry to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for flights within and departing from the EEA, UK, and Switzerland.

“Whilst we embrace our responsibilities, it’s clear we cannot do this alone,” said ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. “We need the EU to deliver the policy and regulatory framework that will enable us to deliver net zero.”

The plan involves cutting 92 per cent of carbon emissions (192 million tonnes in 2019) through technologies such as hydrogen and hybrid-electric propulsion and sustainable aviation fuels, as well as through carbon pricing and improved air traffic management. It called for policies to support these, including an EU-wide blending obligation for sustainable fuel (currently accounting for less than one per cent of all European jet fuel consumption). The EU is in the process of drafting these targets for airlines and is supported by many member states.

The remainder of emissions would be offset through carbon removal technologies.

Due to the reliance on technological development to decarbonise, the report acknowledges that reducing emissions would rely largely on carbon offsetting before 2030.

Meanwhile, US carrier United Airlines has announced that it will purchase up to 200 small electric taxis from start-up Archer to help transfer customers in urban areas to airports. It said that the air taxis could shuttle people on short and popular routes such as Hollywood to Los Angeles International Airport or New York City to Newark Liberty Airport.

It will work with Archer to develop an aircraft capable of helicopter-style vertical take-offs and landings, with a view to delivering the first model in 2024 with certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

United pledged in December to offset all its carbon emissions by 2050, including through investments in carbon capture and storage.

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