The United Kingdom should be aiming for “sustainability super power” status, the chief operating officer of leasing low cost carrier easyJet told this week’s Airlines 2023 conference.
David Morgan said the airline has a clear road map to fly zero emission flights across its entire fleet by developing both Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and green hydrogen technology.
And with the green fuel industry worth an estimated £178 billion a year, the UK can reap the benefits economically and societally as it preserves people’s ability to fly.
“The UK is off to a promising start”, said Morgan who cited pioneering work Rolls Royce is doing on sustainable fuels and new entrants like ZeroAvia, the British/America Hydrogen- electric developer.
“The rate of development of alternative technology is highly encouraging,” Morgan added the US is “storming ahead” and the regulatory and financial support the EU is putting behind SAF and hydrogen means there are areas the UK can take learnings from.
But he said: “The UK’s track record in research and development and ground breaking work in hydrogen is really world-class.
“We are leading by example. Without this there’s a risk that the UK aviation industry is put at a disadvantage.
“There is room for optimism, the fact that so many are taking action and so much progress is being made give me great confidence in the long-term.
“I’m genuinely getting more optimistic every single day. If you look at the rich history of aviation in the UK, we are seeing a re-emergence of those early pioneering days of aviation. It’s genuinely exciting to see.”
Morgan said it would be “unthinkable” that any organisation taking bold steps be disadvantaged and there should be incentives for “good behaviour” by airlines like easyJet.
An Airlines 2023 panel discussing the UK’s prospects for become a sustainability superpower agreed that there need to be more support to industrialise the advances being made.
James McMicking, vice president of strategy at ZeroAvia, said all major industrial transitions are led by start-ups because they offer an ability to work at a different pace.
“They do not have many of the challenges that incumbents face,” he said. “It’s not easy. It [aviation] is an extremely challenging business to break in to.
“This is why start-ups are important. Our experience in the UK has been very successful. We have gone from two people to nearly 250.
“Technology is fine, but we have to put in in action in the market. I think there’s a bigger role here for government to play to accelerate it, to overcome the chicken and egg situation of when is it appropriate to take that next step.
“Our challenge is, of course, technology but really having to scale that in to industrial products. That’s what we are going through right now.”
Maria Lane, Boeing president for the UK, Ireland and Nordic regions, said the race to net 0 is also a race to “unleash capital investment”.
“Any nation that’s seriously intent on the green energy transition does need to ensure that they have an attractive investment environment for green investment.”
Lane said there is a mission and widespread support for the sustainable shift. “It’s something everyone agrees on,” she said, but added that all government departments must work together.
Ingrid Holmes, executive director of the Green Finance Institute, said there is agreement that there needs to be a “revenue certainty mechanism” for green energy.
“We are just working through what would work best,” she said, “but what also heard from investors was there is a bunch of other risks involved.”
Holmes said there will likely be potential roles for other sectors like insurance, debt financiers and investment banks to play.
Alan Newby, director of aerospace, technology and future programmes at Rolls Royce, said aviation will be just a part of the UK’s hydrogen strategy that will play a small part in the move to net zero.
He said other sectors will be demanding hydrogen to decarbonise but that it ought to be directed at “the really hard to decarbonise” sectors.
“Keep the faith, this is a long-term gain,” he said. “We have got to maintain the focus on sustainability and that means investing.
“If you are going to grow the economy in the UK then you have to invest across the sector. You have to maintain that focus across the spectrum.”