Better pulled than pushed to lower emissions

Departments - From the Flight Deck

International Airlines Group (IAG) has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


International Airlines Group (IAG) has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, an important initiative because IAG flies more than 570 aircraft carrying 113 million passengers annually on its Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Level, and Vueling airlines.

IAG’s Flightpath net zero plan includes setting realistic interim milestones and applying multiple strategies to meet the United Nations’ aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C and the United Kingdom government’s intent for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.

Initially, IAG is targeting 10% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per passenger kilometer by 2025. The group has been reporting this industry standard measurement annually for nearly a decade, cutting carbon 13.1% to 87.3gCO2/pkm in 2020 – a target company management says is within reach – from 100.5g in 2012.

IAG CEO Willie Walsh says, “Today, aviation represents 2% of global CO2 emissions. We’re investing in new aircraft and innovative technology to reduce our carbon footprint in an industry where there’s no current alternative to jet fuel.”

To meet its 80gCO2/pkm goal by 2025, IAG is investing in 142 new aircraft worth $27 billion at list prices offering up to 25% better fuel efficiency than the planes they will replace.

This is a win-win: lower emissions for a better planet driven by customer (airline) demand for new, better-performing airplanes powered by more fuel-efficient jet engines. It’s not pie-in-the-sky – it simply requires investing in current technology. Aircraft and engine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should rejoice that IAG – and likely many airlines to follow – will pull us toward lower carbon emissions globally. Customer-driven orders give manufacturers certainty that their products will have buyers – more reassuring than government carbon-reduction mandates pushing manufacturers to create products with unproven demand.

IAG plans to reduce net CO2 20% by 2030 – from 26 million metric tons to 22 – producing 60% less CO2/pkm than in 2005. This will require more than purchasing new airplanes and engines. Reaching 2030 goals – now little more than a decade away – includes investing in sustainable aviation fuels, carbon capture, and hybrid and electric aircraft. Examples include British Airways partnering with Velocys to build a jet fuel plant in the U.K., planned to begin operations in 2024, that will convert household waste destined for landfills into sustainable fuel that produces 70% fewer CO2 emissions than fossil fuel. Partnering with U.S. company Mosaic Materials, IAG’s start-up accelerator Hangar 51 has created an adsorbent material to remove CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.

To reach net-zero CO2 by 2050, IAG’s plan calls for strong government policies and incentives to increase research and development funding for low-carbon aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels, and carbon removal technologies. Tacitly admitting the likelihood of carbon-offset legislation, the plan calls on governments to support “smart global carbon pricing” for aviation that reduces climate impact and “avoids blunt taxation.”

In other words, give us incentives, don’t push us. – Eric