The government has announced its ambition to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2050 with all sectors of the UK economy, including freight, required to deliver substantial reductions in their emissions. This is an aim fully supported by FTA, the organisation representing the logistics sector.

Due to an ever-increasing requirement for speed and efficiency, both for passenger and freight business, the number of flights travelling globally is expected to double within the next 20 years. However, the industry’s operating conditions are extremely complex with high altitudes, extreme temperatures and safety-critical practices making complicating the need to reduce emissions. As the fastest growing source of GHGs – accounting for 2% of all UK GHGs – it is essential the aviation sector overcomes these challenges and looks to solutions such as biofuels, hybrid or electric planes and carbon offsetting as possible ways to reduce the industry’s impact on the planet.

Biofuels 

Combining lower carbon Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) with fossil jet fuel will prove imperative to meeting aviation’s reduced emissions target. In 2008, the first flight using blended biofuel took place. However, using biofuels has proven to be both challenging and costly, due to economic and political uncertainty and rising feedstock prices. This has resulted in less than 1% of globally used jet fuel coming from alternative fuel providers. Now being used on various commercial flights, should SAF receive significant investment and become more affordable, it could be key in reducing aviation’s emissions.

Hybrid or Electric Planes 

Airbus is at the forefront of change with its General Manager, Glenn Llewellyn, explaining that the company saw reducing its CO2 emissions as a necessity. Together with Rolls-Royce, they worked to create the ‘E-Fan’ concept plane which has successfully completed a cross-channel flight. Whilst smaller electric flight demonstrator projects are also underway, FTA’s opinion is that the technological focus should be on the bigger aircraft. However, Airbus have predicted that the technology would not be viable in a larger commercial aircraft until the 2030s.  

As well as modernising the surrounding airport infrastructure, aviation experts have warned that a fundamental aircraft redesign is required for an electric future within aviation. They have also warned that using lighter materials, as well as the availability of lithium ion to produce batteries, could also provide significant challenges. Despite these obstacles, aviation experts have envisaged that hybrid or all-electrics planes could be in use by 2050.

Carbon Offsetting 

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) created the Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). This scheme seeks to compensate for aviation emissions by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere by an equivalent amount.  Scheduled to begin in 2021, the UK has been advised to follow to CORSIA instead of developing its own initiative.  Whilst the aviation sector faces many challenges, there has been a lot of progressive research across the industry with positive results. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if one of the methods will lead the way or, how the various methods will work together to achieve the ambitious net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.  With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.  A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to Government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.

Alex Veitch, Head of Multimodal Policy, FTA