Hydrogen aircraft

UK’s aviation plan notes swift emission cuts necessary to meet climate targets

Image credit: Scharfsinn86/Dreamstime

The UK must “act quickly and decisively” to cut aviation emissions to zero by developing clean aircraft, sustainable fuels and more efficient airspace and airports, the government has admitted in its long-awaited strategy to support the recovery of the sector in the wake of the pandemic.

Passenger numbers fell drastically during the height of the pandemic, leading to layoffs and grounded aircraft. In response, the government has unveiled its 'Flightpath to the future', a strategic framework outlining how it plans to aid the sector in recovery.

It details how aircraft emissions can be cut, including shorter-term plans to blend 10 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into the UK fuel mix by 2030. Estimates suggest a UK SAF industry could generate between £700m and £1.6bn in gross value added (GVA) per year, creating between 5,000 and 11,000 green jobs.

In the longer term, the “ultimate goal” is to have “nothing less than guilt-free, zero-emission flying” the strategy states.

Achieving this goal will include more use of aircraft such as drones and electrical vertical take-off and landing (Evtol) aircraft. Additional funding will be allocated to the Civil Aviation Authority to help scale-up support for these new aircraft technologies.

Through this, the strategy suggests the UK could become “one of the first countries in the world to routinely use new aircraft to provide new and improved low-carbon services and local and regional air mobility for goods and people.”

Other plans to help the aviation sector recover include boosting airport capacity “where it is justified”. The government said it would support airport expansion as long as it can be delivered within the UK’s environmental obligations.

Previous efforts to add a third runway to Heathrow Airport were rejected by the Court of Appeal, as the plans failed to account for climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“Equally, it is critical that the existing capacity of airports is managed as efficiently as possible,” the strategy states.

Currently, airport slots are used to manage capacity at eight of the busiest airports in the UK. The current slot allocation system was originally devised in the early 1990s and some airports are now effectively full.

“Therefore, newly available slots at some slot-coordinated airports have become a rarity, creating a barrier to competition and new entrants to the market,” the strategy adds.

In January this year, the government tightened rules around UK airport slots to force airlines to operate flights at least 70 per cent of the time in order to keep them.

“The necessary changes that will decarbonise and futureproof the benefits of flying can only be achieved when we all work together,” a Heathrow spokeswoman said.

“Flightpath to the Future is the first step. Now we need government to bring pace to the policies that will allow the sector to fulfil the ambitions they are setting out today. Failure to do this, will only see this plan grounded.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said: “There can be no ‘Global Britain’ without the air connectivity that UK airlines deliver. We look forward to a laser-like focus from government on the levers it can pull to make the UK a truly competitive, global aviation hub.”

In March, the airline industry praised the government’s decision to scrap restrictions at airports, despite the rapidly rising number of cases of Covid-19 at the time.

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