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ERA’s Green and Sustainable Connectivity Webinar



On 1 July 2020, ERA held a webinar for its members to outline its Green and Sustainable Connectivity report, including the technology review undertaken by ZeroAvia, and give updates on ERA environmental activities. 

Montserrat Barriga welcomed the participants and kicked off the webinar. The crisis has hit all the sectors of the economy, particularly aviation, however, this has not delayed any climate efforts. In fact, climate goals have been further emphasised and prioritised. This is visible in the new European presidency’s trio work programmes, in which the German, Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies are committed to the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement objectives. The European Commission has also revised its priorities in the work programme in order to address the impacts of COVID-19 and introduced its proposals for the new recovery fund and European budget for the next seven years.  It is clear that work in the field will not be delayed and it will actually be embedded in the recovery plan in order to reach a green recovery.

ERA then presented the Green and Sustainable Connectivity report. The report is a stocktake exercise in which all information regarding aviation and environment was gathered, with the main objective of promoting ERA members’ initiatives and efforts to decarbonise the sector. We are living in a period characterised by the flight shaming movement and the EU’s Green Deal – which are putting great pressure on the EU’s aviation sector. Some solutions call for curbing demand, like imposing more taxes or mandates or reducing financial support. But aviation is part of the solution to achieving the EU’s climate targets of 2050 and people should not be faced with the question to fly or not to fly, but we all need to strive to fly more sustainably.

With this report it is clear that sustainability is high on the agenda for both the industry and our members and as an industry we are taking the responsibility towards decarbonisation and that the industry needs governments to invest in the industry, particularly in regional aviation given the opportunities that innovative technologies can bring to this market segment.

Flight shaming is having a big impact particularly on regional aviation as it can be 'easily' replaced by other modes of transport. However, it was important to highlight in the report the benefits that regional aviation brings to Europe as a basic sector. ERA’s airlines in particular, provide vital connectivity and support for Europe’s regions and promote social and territorial equality and cohesion, they contribute to increased tourism, investment and job creation. They facilitate European integration and contributing to sustainable development by providing essential transport links to mainland Europe, as often it’s the only mode available to inhabitants in remote regions, islands sometimes the only ones. ERA members also operate many PSO routes awarded by EU member. Despite the benefits, there is a lot of push to shift to rail which is not always the most sustainable alternative, especially if the railway system does not exist yet.

The report also outlines the CO2 emissions share of ERA members. The data is from March 2020 and was gathered when we had 53 airlines in membership. Gloablly, aviation accounts for 2-3 per cent of CO2 emissions and regional aviation accounts 5 per cent of this share globally. In Europe instead, 2019 ERA airline members accounted for 13.3Mt of CO2 emissions, representing 7.76 per cent of the aviation emissions in the EU and 1.43 per cent of the EU’s total transport emissions. In addition, between 2012 and 2017 ERA airline’s CO2 emissions rose by 17.1 per cent and between 2017-2019 growth by 4.3 per cent. What is interesting is that this growth in CO2 was due to increase of distance flown (1.41 per cent in one year) rather than an increase of flights (which actually decreased by 5,000). We also compared the growth rate between ERA (17.1 per cent) and EU (9.6 per cent) aviation. Total CO2 emissions in all sectors of EU economy decreased by 6.7 per cent as other sectors are decarbonising. Despite accounting for a very small share, we are expected to grow as other sectors are reducing their carbon footprint and action is required.

In fact, the industry has been reducing its carbon footprint since the 1990s and has imposed on itself industry targets that need to be met by 2050. It is clear the importance that the regional sector plays and that and that we should not be faced we the question to fly or not to fly. The sector has been working on its carbon footprint and it’s continuing to do so. This includes also regional airlines and given the nature of regional aviation, characterised by short-haul flights, the regional sector lends itself to new, clean technologies and should, therefore, be the forerunner for testing and selecting the right technology needed to decarbonise the industry. Therefore, more investment in new technologies is needed.

In the technology review presentation, ZeroAvia emphasised the key moment that this represents for clean aviation with the ZeroAvia UK flight test on 19 June 2020 and the recent publication of both the Green and Sustainable Connectivity report and the Hydrogen-powered aviation report. There are different decarbonisation technologies available for the aviation industry, such as SAFs, hybrid-electric aircraft, battery-electric aircraft and hydrogen electric aircraft. They looked at the most cost-efficient option for the regional sector by focussing on less than 20-seat turboprops, 50–80-seat turboprops and 100–120-seat small, narrow-body regional jets. For the regional sector, electric or zero-emission aircraft have great revenue potential. Based on a survey carried out among ERA airline and manufacturer members, electrification of 20-seat aircraft is expected to be introduced by 2025, for 50–80 seats by 2030 and for 100-seat aircraft not before 2035. Given the nature of regional aviation, characterised by short-haul flights, there is a significant opportunity for ERA airline members to decarbonise with the introduction of new technology, as, apart from decarbonisation, they can also benefit from cost decrease. ZeroAvia also presented a timeline: hybrid-electric for less than 20 seats will be available as early as 2025 for commercialisation while for 50-80 seats it will available by 2030. Battery-electric will be ready for commercialisation between 2025 and 2035 and Hydrogen-electric will be ready for commercialisation by the same timeline.

ZeroAvia has also given suggestions to airlines on how they can accelerate sustainable aviation. As a first step, airlines should work with new technology developers to develop a business case for a specific route network, or for the future route network an airline might want to develop, ensuring positive business impact and infrastructure options. Secondly, airlines should engage in demonstration projects, where technology developers showcase their capability of zero-emission flight on selected routes. This allows to establish early leadership in sustainable aviation, gauge interest and price sensitivities of environmentally-conscious travellers. Finally, airlines should introduce zero-emission products to their fleet.

In the final presentation by ERA, the updates on environmental activities were given. Firstly, CORSIA’s baseline: when the scheme was agreed upon, the baseline was to be determined by the average of CO2 emissions of 2019 and 2020. However, with low air traffic as a result of travel restrictions, 2020 emissions were not deemed representative of the sectors CO2 impact. The risk of using 2020 emissions would be that because the average would be lowered, there would be a greater gap that would be filled with offsetting requirements as air traffic goes back to normal. These offsetting requirements would be more costly for airlines than what was forecasted when CORSIA was being agreed upon. The ICAO Council reached an agreement on 30 June 2020. It agreed that 2020 emissions should not be used for any CORSIA design features and 2019 emissions will be used for pilot phase (2021-2023). Secondly, the European Sustainable Aviation Roadmap is in its final draft and should be delivered by the end of July and published in September to ensure the right level of visibility. Thirdly, ERA has been working on the recovery fund and ensuring that aviation can access the funds to be part of the EU’s carbon neutrality plan by 2050. Together with other associations, ERA has sent an open letter to European institutions and member states to ensure a boost in the production of SAF via direct capital investment in SAF production facilities and by making Europe the centre of excellence for the development and production of SAF; a green incentive scheme for airlines and aircraft operators to replace older aircraft; an increase of public funding and public co-funding rates for civil aviation research and innovation (clean aviation program SESAR); continued investment in European air traffic management and investment in sustainable airport and heliport infrastructure. Finally, the EIB is working on the Climate Change Roadmap that will define its sustainable investments. We found worrying he lack of support for the aviation industry and therefore are preparing a letter to the EIB outlining how the industry can help decarbonise the EU’s economy and be part of the solution.

You can find the presentations from the webinar at the top of this page and the recording here.

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