The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has unveiled a series of roadmaps aimed at providing step-by-step detailing of critical actions and dependencies for aviation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These roadmaps address aircraft technology, energy infrastructure, operations, finance, and policy considerations leading to net zero.
With the adoption of a Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) at ICAO’s 41. Assembly, governments and industry are aligned to reach the same net-zero CO2 emissions goal by 2050. As policy initiatives lay the foundation on which many of the needed innovations and actions will rest, these roadmaps will be a critical reference point for policy makers.
“The roadmaps are the first detailed assessment of the key steps necessary to accelerate the transition to net-zero by 2050. Together, they show a clear direction and will evolve as we dig deeper to set interim milestones on the way to net zero. I must emphasize that the roadmaps are not just for airlines. Governments, suppliers, and financiers cannot be spectators in aviation’s decarbonisation journey. They have skin in the game. The roadmaps are a call to action for all aviation’s stakeholders to deliver the tools needed to make this fundamental transformation of aviation a success with policies and products fit for a net-zero world,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
The roadmaps were not developed in isolation. A peer-to-peer review, complemented by a modelling tool provided by the Air Transportation Systems Laboratory at University College London (UCL), was conducted to calculate emission reductions for each technology.
Highlights of each roadmap include:
Aircraft Technology: the development of more efficient aircraft and engines. Particularly important are the steps needed to enable aircraft powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen or batteries. All development milestones are backed-up by announced investment and demonstrator programmes. Also included are new engines, aerodynamics, aircraft structures, and flight systems.
Energy and New Fuels Infrastructure: the focus is on the fuels and new energy carrier infrastructure upstream from airports needed to facilitate the use of aircraft powered by SAF or hydrogen. Renewable energy plays a vital role in meeting the aviation sector’s energy demand, and the roadmap outlines milestones to enable the necessary infrastructure developments.
Operations: the opportunities for reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency by improving the way existing aircraft are operated. Automation, big data management, and the integration of new technologies are key enablers for optimizing air traffic management and enhancing the overall efficiency of the air transportation system.
Policy: the need for globally aligned strategic policies to provide incentives and support for the aviation industry’s transition to a net-zero future. As with all other successful energy transitions, collaboration between governments and industry stakeholders is crucial in creating the necessary framework to achieve the decarbonisation goals.
Finance: how to finance the cumulative US$5 trillion needed for aviation to achieve net-zero by 2050. This includes technological advancements, infrastructure developments, and operational improvements.
The challenges to ramp up SAF production are a good illustration of the importance of these roadmaps. As a drop-in solution, SAF is expected to deliver about 62% of carbon mitigation needed to achieve net-zero by 2050. But even though SAF is expected to be fully implementable with future aircraft fleet, it still has major inter-dependencies on policy, aircraft technology, energy infrastructure, financing, and operations for which these roadmaps are critical.