The climate crisis is the single greatest challenge of our lifetime. COP26 in Glasgow last year heralded an important moment for the aviation industry as it commits to meeting net zero by 2050 whilst continuing to connect people and transport goods across the globe. The climate crisis will not be solved by one industry, like aviation, or by one player within that industry, like airlines. It requires co-ordinated and consistent progress to be made against ambitious climate goals by individuals, industries and governments.

It is important that these goals are clear and that airlines are held accountable for them. Increasingly, our customers are demanding more information about our climate credentials. Carbon emissions estimates are now being displayed on online travel agent’s websites, allowing the customer to make informed choices. The pandemic has reinforced customer’s desire and love for travel, but they want to travel responsibly.

Near term goals

Whilst advancements in electric and hydrogen powered aircraft are still some way off commercial implementation, fleet transformation and efficient aircraft technology are crucial to deliver near term goals. One of the most impactful things airlines can do is fly the cleanest, greenest, youngest fleet possible. This requires significant investment now to ensure that efficiency gains are realised in the future – aircraft take years to build and to enter an airline’s fleet. The average age of our aircraft is under seven years, following a multi-billion-dollar fleet transformation over the last decade. This investment has already contributed to a 20 per cent reduction in fleet carbon emissions and the delivery of 16 new Airbus A330-900 neos this year will contribute a further 10 per cent reduction in emissions.

In addition to fleet transformation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will play a significant role in decarbonising aviation. Bold strides have been made by producers in SAF technology and production, however availability remains limited. As supply expands over the next decade, SAF will become more viable for airlines.

Fleet transformation, aircraft technology, and SAF supply are crucial to the aviation industry decarbonising, but of equal importance is the need for the global industry to continue working together as a coalition of the willing. Finding green solutions to travel and being open about research, innovation and progress is crucial – treading lighter and being more sustainable on the way to a low carbon future.

Alex McEwan is the Country Manager, South Asia – Virgin Atlantic