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Passengers pay for aviation’s sustainability shortcomings

An Emirates flight at Cairo International Airport. Emirates last year launched a $200 million fund to produce sustainable aviation fuel Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
An Emirates flight at Cairo International Airport. Emirates last year launched a $200 million fund to produce sustainable aviation fuel
  • Sustainability targets include penalties
  • Costs will be paid by customers
  • Aviation experts urge use of incentives

Penalties imposed on the aviation industry for failing to meet stringent sustainability targets will ultimately lead to higher air fares for passengers, according to an industry expert.

“The customer is going to pay the extra cost,” said Wahab Teffaha, secretary general of the Arab Air Carriers’ Organization, speaking at the 11th annual Arab Aviation Summit in Ras Al Khaimah this week.

The aviation industry is responsible for three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is subject to tough policy measures to bring this down and meet a target of net zero by 2050.

For example, failure to comply with Corsia – the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation – a global market-based measure designed to offset international aviation CO2 emissions and stabilise levels, has already resulted in airlines facing high financial penalties. 

The European Union last year directed all aircraft at airports within its jurisdiction to be blended with a minimum share of two percent of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) starting in 2025, and increasing every five years to 70 percent by 2050.

“I hope sustainability does not become a commercial target to generate more revenue,” said Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia, which has its headquarters in Sharjah.

Instead of penalising the sector, Teffaha called on regulators to incentivise the industry on its journey towards sustainability.

He pointed towards the road transport industry, which is responsible for 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“When you buy a hybrid car or an electric car in the West, in many countries, you get cash back,” he said. “You get an incentive to buy, you get an incentive to reduce emissions. In aviation, you get a penalty now as incentive.”

Teffaha described the sustainability challenge as “the hill that we need to climb”.

Dubai flag carrier Emirates last year launched a $200 million fund to produce SAF and became the world’s first airline to operate an A380 demonstration flight using 100 percent SAF.

In 2022, the UAE’s Etihad Airways made its inaugural transatlantic net-zero flight powered entirely by SAF from Washington to Abu Dhabi via Sharm El Sheikh, the host site of the Cop27 climate conference.

“I’m not saying that [remove penalties] in order to exempt us from the responsibility of dealing with our climate challenge, but I am saying that we are not being treated fairly,” said Teffaha.

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