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Qatar Airways CEO calls for realism over net-zero targets

People, Person, Adult Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker says 'let's be realistic' about net-zero goals
  • Al Baker has labelled sustainable aviation fuel as too ‘expensive’
  • Emirates boss has also conceded fossil fuels currently essential
  • UAE continues to explore SAF production and environmental targets

The CEO of Qatar Airways has said the lack of readily available aviation fuel alternatives will throw the industry’s goals of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 into doubt.

Akbar Al Baker is a long-standing critic of suppliers of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), labelling it “exorbitantly expensive” and claiming it’s only available in low volumes “because the cost to produce is too high”.

Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum on Tuesday he said: “I don’t think that we will be able to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Everybody’s talking about it, but let’s be realistic – there’s not enough production of sustainable aviation fuel.”

The International Air Transport Association defines SAF as “fuels derived from non-fossil sources or feedstock”.

It says SAF is able to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent, and could account for 65 percent of the emissions reductions required for net zero in 2050.

Since the first test flight in 2008, more than 400,000 commercial flights have taken place using alternative and traditional fuel blends, according to the Air Transport Action Group.

Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways launched a voluntary carbon offset programme for corporate customers last year

In February, Emirates operated its first flight with one of its engines powered entirely with SAF.

The state-owned airline has allocated $200 million for research and development projects focussed on lowering the impact of fossil fuels in commercial aviation.

However, Emirates president Tim Clark conceded that long-haul flights using anything but fossil fuels are currently impossible.

“You will not fly an A380 to Los Angeles with 500 passengers on board, burning 200 tonnes of fuel, on anything other than fossil fuels for the time being,” he said at Arabian Travel Market last month.

A resolution was passed by International Air Transport Association member airlines in October 2021 committing them to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050.

In January, UAE renewable energy company Masdar, state oil firm Adnoc and oil major BP agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study on exploring the production of SAF in the UAE.

The agreement, which includes Abu Dhabi Waste Management Company and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, explores the production of SAF alongside products such as renewable diesel and naphtha, using municipal solid waste and renewable hydrogen.

Airline bosses are set to discuss environmental targets at the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting next month.