With the UN Secretary-General recently warning of a climate emergency, the need for sustainable flying and discussing initiatives that can help the sector contributing 2.5 per cent of all human-induced CO2 emissions, to decarbonise have become critically important.

IATA has aligned its net-zero carbon emissions commitment with the Paris Agreement, however, it will be a daunting task and will require a collective effort. To mitigate 1.8 gigatonnes of aviation-emitted carbon by 2050, IATA shares a plan, proposing that 65 per cent will be abated by the use of Sustainable Aviation fuel, 13 per cent by electric and hydrogen engines, along with new technology, 19 per cent by offsets and carbon capture and 3 per cent by adopting infrastructure and operational efficiencies.

Sustainable aviation fuel

Indian aviation contributes 1 per cent to the emissions, which is far less than the global average, but with the growth forecasted for Indian aviation, this is likely to reach 2.5 per cent in the next decade. Using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is seen as a major initiative in reducing carbon emissions and contributing to the Indian government’s environmental goals. As aircraft fuel burn is the main source of air transport pollutant emissions, SAF, a biofuel made from renewable biomass and waste resources can help reduce emissions by 80 per cent.

SpiceJet, Boeing and the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) announced they are working together to explore opportunities for the use of SAF in Indian aviation as part of the organisations’ commitment to help reduce carbon emissions. In February this year, IndiGo took delivery of its first aircraft operating on SAF from Airbus. The Clean Skies for Tomorrow India community has set a 2030 goal of transporting 100 million passengers on SAF at a 10 per cent blend.

However, today only 100 million litres of SAF are used globally, which is a drop in the ocean. For the aviation industry to meet the target of going green, SAF needs to be produced at scale to meet the requirement of 450 billion litres. But this is not possible without the help of the government and energy producers.

Airports too are doing their bit, with Kochi airport becoming the world’s first to completely operate on solar power. A new airport in Greater Noida plans to be India's first net-zero emissions airport terminal. Besides, airports are also deploying LEDs and air-cooling systems running on renewable energy.

While the largest proportion of these emissions occurs during the cruise phase; ground movement of aircraft, including landing, taxiing, take-off and congestion in skies, also contributes significantly to total emissions. Artificial Intelligence and digital simulations can help airports and air navigation services implement predictive analytics models for landing and take-off to best augment the capacity and reduce congestion.

All this augurs well for India, which recently became the third-largest domestic aviation market after the US and China. But the industry needs close collaboration from all the stakeholders to meet the very challenging goal of net zero by 2050.

(The author is Vice President, South Asia and the Middle East, Elenium.)