Puja Mahajan, CEO Azzera
Sebastien Lacube, Chief Science Officer, Azzera
The aviation industry, a critical enabler of global connectivity and trade, is currently undergoing a significant shift toward sustainability. It is perhaps the greatest technical and financial challenge aviation has ever faced. The urgency to reduce carbon emissions and minimize the environmental footprint of air travel has propelled a commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. Indeed, airlines and aircraft manufacturers are investing substantially in initiatives aimed at making aviation more environmentally friendly while ensuring profitability. And while the decarbonization strategies for OEMs and large commercial airlines are well documented, the path forward for smaller players in the business aviation ecosystem can seem daunting and overwhelming. This article delves into key sustainability measures in business aviation, focusing on specific actions Aircraft Operators, Fixed-Base Operators (FBOs), and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MROs) can take to make their operations more climate-friendly.
For Business Aviation players, introducing sustainability today is often perceived as an unwelcome undertaking. Business owners and leaders often equate sustainable actions with burdensome costs and heightened complexities. Despite these perceptions, the mounting pressure to adopt sustainable practices cannot be overlooked. Europe, for instance, is witnessing rising concerns over climate-motivated disturbances and unrest,1 that are intended to highlight the urgency of sustainable measures. Furthermore, governments and regulators world-wide are introducing taxation and compliance schemes aimed specifically at accelerating aviation sector decarbonization. At the same time, consumers, investors, and financing institutions are increasingly favoring businesses demonstrating robust eco-conscious principles. In this evolving landscape, the aviation sector finds itself not isolated but propelled into the spotlight as a crucial player in the broader battle against climate change. Thus, sustainability is no longer merely commendable—it has transitioned into an imperative for the aviation industry.
Not unsurprisingly, the business aviation sector has taken a leadership role in defining a path towards sustainable aviation. As early as 2009, industry organizations such as the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) established a comprehensive roadmap known as the “Business Aviation Commitment against Climate Change”, which was renewed and revised in May of 2023.2 This strategic framework offers a structured approach for businesses in the sector to effectively mitigate their environmental impact and work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The roadmap encompasses a range of initiatives, including technological advancements, operational enhancements, and policy advocacy.
Certainly, as an industry, progress has been realized. For example, the initial target for carbon neutral growth from 2010 to 2020 has been achieved and is now renewed for 2020 through 2030. Much of the roadmap addresses effective action for OEMs to undertake to drive the industry forward sustainably. Practically speaking, it is Aircraft Operators, Fixed-Base Operators (FBOs), and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facilities that are facing the daily onslaught of public, shareholder, and market pressure. Adding upcoming regulatory compliance concerns, it becomes a complex problem to unravel and determine a clear path forward. So, how do businesses in the aviation ecosystem initiate an effective and low-cost sustainability strategy?
It starts with Emissions Measurements
The entire aviation ecosystem contributes to the industry’s overall emissions. Operators, FBO and MRO facilities, and even charter sales companies can easily initiate sustainable actions into their operations by understanding and quantifying the emissions produced by their business.
This first step is often referred to as the business greenhouse (GHG) gas footprint or GHG accounting. Measuring emissions is a key exercise that allows businesses to clearly identify opportunities for emissions reduction. Ideally, a company will measure emissions from all three areas of their carbon footprint; Scope 1 (direct), Scope 2 (indirect from purchased electricity) and Scope 3 (indirect, supply chain). Companies can seek guidance from extensively used and internationally recognized frameworks such as the GHG Protocol and ISO 14065.3
Canadian and Swiss-based company, Azzera, has produced custom frameworks designed specifically to help business aviation companies get started with this process, which can typically take between 8-12 weeks, depending on the volume of data to gather and analyze.
It is clear, studying both typical breakdowns of a midsized operator and international FBO (Figure 1 & 2), that in-flight fuel-based emissions are the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions in aviation. When applying the standards of accounting frameworks, those flight emissions are accounted for in the direct emissions of operators (scope 1, in the mobile combustion category) but in the indirect emissions (scope 3) of FBOs. This is specifically important as the reporting responsibility goes to scope 1 emitter, in that case the operator.
Figure 1: Breakdown of an international FBO GHG footprint
Note: flight emissions are removed to better present reduction opportunities.
Figure 2: Breakdown of a midsize operator GHG footprint, including flight emissions.
Figures 1 and 2 present a general breakdown of GHG emissions for those two case studies. From the operator’s point of view, flight related emissions account for 69% of total emissions while they account for close to 99% for an FBO (therefore removed for visibility) – the size of the company being the largest factor here. Thus, reducing flight emissions is the first item to tackle.
Business owners looking to introduce achievable short-term reduction targets should consider other contributing factors beyond fuel. For instance, ground operations and maintenance activities, in addition to the production and transportation of aviation fuels also contribute to the industry’s overall emissions. For FBOs, Ground Support Equipment, de-icing services and maintenance activities are the second largest emitters. On the other hand, this place is fulfilled by maintenance, and fuel-related activities for operators and MROs. In both our case studies, it is clear that businesses can quickly identify reduction opportunities upon the remaining non-flight related emissions; examples include incentivizing sustainable alternatives for employee commuting, promoting online meetings when business travel is not necessary, or setting up a sustainable procurement policy within the company.
While reducing the number of flights is an obvious answer, it is not a business solution and neither is fueling entirely with sustainable aviation fuel, which is cost prohibitive in all cases, even for business jet owners. Before mitigation, however, operators have a more pressing concern, emissions compliance.
Emissions Compliance: a necessary burden.
Operators today are subject to compliance requirements from European Emissions Trading Schemes (EU-ETS, UK-ETS, Swiss-ETS) and now international regulation from IATA’s Carbon Offsetting and Reporting Scheme for International Operators (CORSIA). Such operating regulations drive the need to establish new internal processes to measure flight emissions or risk facing financial penalties. Furthermore, operators must file audited reports to regulating bodies for each respective compliance scheme, and eventually access carbon markets to secure necessary carbon allowances (example EUAs) or carbon credits. Certainly, for aircraft operators, even single aircraft operations, emissions compliance requires additional time and resources, and is essential to ensure operational continuity and avoid penalties.
CELESTE is a pioneering instrument introduced by Azzera for all aircraft operators to act against climate change. It addresses all challenges of emission compliance in a single platform removing the burden of reporting through automated calculations, providing trustworthy access to sustainable aviation fuel and de-risking carbon credit investments. Users can directly access Sustainable Aviation Fuel credits, compliance allowances, or credits and voluntary carbon credits. It saves hundreds of hours of time in compliance reporting and allows operators to be in full control of their sustainable actions.
Whether automated or manual, once flight emissions have been calculated and identified, operators and owners of aircraft can easily begin to mitigate their emissions depending on objectives.
Mitigating Flight Emissions: The cost of Net Zero Flight
Once a business GHG footprint has been established, short term actions to reduce emissions identified and emissions compliance addressed, Operators, MROs and FBOs are often faced with the immediate dilemma of addressing flight emissions without reducing the number of flights.
While the industry is paving a way to reduce flight-related emissions through new aircraft technologies such as electric batteries, liquid-hydrogen, methane or ammonia, most studies conclude that these technologies will not be mature enough until after 2040 for long-haul flights.4 Still, certain actions can be taken today with minimum investment such as driving demand to scale sustainable aviation fuels and compensating emissions by contributing to mitigating global emissions (offsetting).
The first and most powerful approach is to reduce flight emissions by directly fueling the aircraft with a blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and conventional fuel. The maximum reduction potential compared to conventional fuel is around 85%. It should also be noted that using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) contributes to compliance with various emission reduction schemes like CORSIA, allowing airlines to effectively meet their emissions reduction targets. Using SAFs that contributes to compliance can in turn help operators fall under the threshold for having to buy approvals or carbon credits.
As interesting as this sounds, it poses two problems: cost and availability. SAF is currently sold at a price two to five times higher than conventional JetA today5 making it cost prohibitive to fully fuel all flights with SAF. This cost concern is amplified as readily available SAF is not easy to find. Building production infrastructures will require time and investment, and transporting low-carbon fuel on trucks or ships long distances goes against the initial emission reduction logic. Adding to the limitations due to cost and availability, commercial aviation has the financial power and volume demands to secure off-take agreements for several years into the future. This leaves low-volume business aviation needs without available resources for physical SAF.
An alternative has risen in recent years through the Book and Claim ledger model, which allows the decoupling of the physical use of fuel from its environmental attributes. The Book and Claim system allows one aircraft to use SAF where locally accessible, paying for conventional fuel without claiming any reduction, while another company uses conventional fuel, paying for SAF and claiming its environmental benefit for their scope 1 or 3 emissions – depending on their usage. When correctly implemented, secured and audited, Book and Claim ledgers are the best alternative today to help scale production.
After procuring SAF or SAF certificates via a book and claim system, the next step is compensation of unavoidable flight emissions, or out of sector market-based measures. Compensating emissions is an accessible and legitimate sustainable action when done with proper due diligence and understanding. In order to compensate their calculated flight emissions, companies can procure audited and verified carbon credits issued by independent third parties and linked to emission reductions– or GHG removal – activities outside of the aviation industry.
Examples of these out of sector activities include installing renewable energy in coal-dominated countries, capturing landfill methane gas to produce heat and electricity, participating in reforestation projects, or protecting threatened ecosystems and much more. There is no doubt that compensation is more impactful than business as usual, but companies willing to participate should perform enough due diligence to reduce their own emissions before any purchase. It is strongly advised to procure carbon credits from internationally recognized standards such as the Gold Standard and seek additional co-benefits and certifications linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Several companies provide rating systems that allow for transparent reporting of a project’s current and future achievements, such as the Azzera Impact Score, ensuring peace-of-mind that the monetary investment is really making a difference.
Today, the best approach to mitigate flight emissions would be to combine both a SAF and compensation solution. Looking at typical and modern day short, medium, and long-haul flights shows that the cost of a 2% reduction via SAF book and claim and the full compensation of the remaining emissions through high-quality nature-based6 carbon credits ($20 per Tonne) would only add a 2% premium to the total flight costs. This premium is notably marginal compared to the associated benefits. This is in line with a recent 2023 study from McKinsey that demonstrates that cargo, corporate and leisure customers have signaled a growing propensity to pay for decarbonization measures. According to the study, 85 percent of travelers globally said they were willing to pay 2 percent or more for carbon-neutral flight tickets. This is a significant increase compared to previous years where in 2019 and 2021, a survey showed consumers’ willingness to pay more for carbon-neutral flight tickets was 46 and 39 percent, respectively.7
Beyond Climate Change
From a business perspective, the conscious decision to implement a climate impact-focused sustainability strategy can reap many benefits. While at first glance, it may seem like an unnecessary expense, the benefits far outweigh the cost.
According to a 2022 study from Global brokerage company Jetcraft, the last 5 years have seen a rising number of aircraft owners below 45 years old.8 Almost all consumer studies are unanimous in their claims that brand or product sustainability has become a leading factor in purchase decision-making, particularly for those under 45 years old (millennials and Gen X).
Companies adopting sustainable action by default help to foster innovation. Small changes like moving to renewable energy sources or introducing ADS-B on all aircraft or electrification of GSE – these are steps towards a reduced GHG footprint but also drive a culture of innovation within the company. Using resources like SAF Book and Claim and voluntary carbon credits support innovation on a global scale, which is needed for true climate action. Finally, considering to invest or partner in low carbon flight solutions such as electric or hybrid electric aircraft as part of your fleet upgrade strategy is a definitive step to support the transformation of aviation.
Showcasing a commitment to sustainability and innovation can attract top talent, especially from the younger generation that values corporate responsibility and sustainability and is interested in making a difference. Climate change is seen as the top concern for Millennials and Gen Z. Furthermore, both institutional and private investors are more and more looking for an ESG plan as a minimum before any investment is considered.
Initiating a sustainability strategy will attract environmentally conscious customers, partners, and investors, which are fast becoming the majority. This positive image can lead to increased employee engagement, brand loyalty, and, ultimately, higher market share.
Aircraft operators, FBOs and MROs in business aviation face growing concerns about climate change, coupled with regulatory pressures and the preferences of consumers, investors, and financial institutions, emphasizing the need for sustainable practices. Sustainability initiatives are no longer a choice for aviation companies; they are a necessity for both survival and growth. The path to a greener aviation industry is challenging, but not inconceivable. Business aviation players can easily begin by understanding business GHG footprint as a baseline and taking progressive subsequent action. By focusing on sustainability initiatives in the short, mid, and long term, aviation companies can meet regulatory compliance, exceed stakeholder expectations, achieve operational efficiency, and secure their place in a sustainable future. Indeed, the benefits of participating in the business aviation commitment to net-zero far outweigh the costs, paving the way for a resilient and environmentally responsible sector.
1 Editor, C. A. M., & Cathy Buyck. (2023, October 2). Business aviation facing increasing eco-protest, lack of response: Ain. Aviation International News. https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2023-10-02/bizavs-quandary-over-eco-protests
2 Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change, ibac.org. (updated May 2023). https://ibac.org/app/ibac/files-module/local/documents/BACCC_update_0523.pdf
3 The Greenhouse Gas Protocol. (n.d.-b). https://ghgprotocol.org/sites/default/files/standards/ghg-protocol-revised.pdf
4 Eurocontrol Think Paper #21 – long-haul flight decarbonisation: When can cutting-edge energies & Technologies make a difference?. EUROCONTROL. (n.d.). https://www.eurocontrol.int/publication/eurocontrol-think-paper-21-long-haul-flight-decarbonisation-when-can-cutting-edge
5 New certificates offer flyers a sustainable fuel option to cut CO2. World Economic Forum. (n.d.). https://www.weforum.org/press/2021/06/new-certificates-offer-flyers-a-sustainable-fuel-option-to-cut-co2/
6 Carbon Credits. (2023, August 22). Nature-based carbon offsets crucial in the road to net zero. https://carboncredits.com/nature-based-carbon-offsets-crucial-in-the-road-to-net-zero/
7 A., Franz, F., Riedel, R., Riefer, D., & Mulder, G. (2023, June 16). Decarbonizing aviation: Executing on net-zero goals. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/aerospace-and-defense/our-insights/decarbonizing-aviation-executing-on-net-zero-goals
8 Forecast landing 2022. Jetcraft. (2022, September 19). https://www.jetcraft.com/market-forecast-2022/