Sustainable Energy

Aviation body targets 1 billion passengers on sustainably-fueled flights

Key Points
  • The number of flights using sustainable aviation fuel has grown rapidly over the past 10 years.
  • International Air Transport Association wants to use sustainable sources for its alternative fuels.
Yang Lu | EyeEm | Getty Images

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) wants 1 billion passengers to fly on trips powered by a combination of jet fuel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2025.

The announcement, on Monday, came 10 years after a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 completed a trip from London to Amsterdam powered by SAF in one of its engines. The IATA said that a flight powered solely by sustainable fuel had the potential to cut its carbon emissions by as much as 80 percent.

The number of commercial flights using SAF – which can be produced from a range of sources, including domestic waste – has increased rapidly, from one in 2008 to 3,000 in 2013 and more than 100,000 last year.

"The momentum for sustainable aviation fuels is now unstoppable," IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre De Juniac said in a statement. "From one flight in 2008, we passed the threshold of 100,000 flights in 2017 and we expect to hit 1 million flights during 2020."

This, De Juniac added, was still a "drop in the ocean" when compared with the organization's target for 1 billion passengers to have flown on a SAF-blended flight by 2025. "We need governments to set a framework to incentivize production of SAF and ensure it is as attractive to produce as automotive biofuels," he said.

The IATA, which represents airlines accounting for 83 percent of worldwide air traffic, said that airports in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Oslo and Brisbane were already combining SAF with general fuel supplies.

It added that it would seek to use sustainable sources for the alternative fuels it uses. "The airline industry is clear, united and adamant that we will never use a sustainable fuel that upsets the ecological balance of the planet or depletes its natural resources," De Juniac said.

The environmental impact of aviation is a pressing concern. In the European Union, for instance, direct emissions from aircraft represent around 3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the European Commission.