Domestic flights across the United Kingdom could be operated by electric and hydrogen aircraft as early as 2028, according to a new analysis from Transport & Environment (T&E), Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group.
But first, better policy to guide the aviation industry towards that goal is needed, the report says.
The clean transport lobby group published a new analysis this week entitled Reducing UK’s Aviation Climate Impact, which recommends a net-zero path forward for the UK aviation sector.
Prime among the recommendations is a ban on polluting aircraft for domestic routes in 2040 and a full replacement of fossil kerosene by 2050.
But the leading recommendation put forward in the policy paper was a call for a progressive increase in the share of internal flights that are flown by electric and hydrogen aircraft from 2028, leading to a full ban on polluting domestic aircraft by 2040.
“A ban on conventional aircraft for domestic flights is necessary if the government wants to fulfill its Jet Zero ambitions,” said Matt Finch, UK policy manager at T&E.
“A 2040 deadline for polluting jets will help transform the UK into a global leader on zero-emissions aircraft. Electric and hydrogen aircraft should be supported with taxpayer money in the early years, before airlines are required to use them by law.”
The T&E policy paper also calls for 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to be used for all longer, international flights from 2050 onwards, made from waste-based SAF and e-kerosene. UK government policies should also seek to expressly encourage locally made SAF production by providing loan guarantees for first-of-a-kind SAF plants, in tandem with implementing a SAF mandate on fuel suppliers.
The UK government has already committed to “enable the delivery of 10% SAF by 2030” as part of its Net Zero Strategy released in October 2021. T&E are calling on the UK government to carefully divide this target between e-kerosene and waste-based SAF, suggesting that a “twin-track” approach requires a growing share of both technologies.
T&E’s plan to pay for the necessary increase in investment in SAF and zero-emission aircraft (ZEA) is a kerosene tax that they believe should take effect from 2025.
“Today, any motorist filling up their car’s petrol tank pays more fuel duty than any British airline,” said Finch. “It’s time to finally tax fossil kerosene and use a large portion of the income to set the industry on a realistic path to net zero.”
According to T&E, “measures to decarbonise UK aviation have been virtually non-existent” and efforts “to decarbonise the sector through international measures adopted via the UN aviation agency have failed, and not a single country legislates for the non-CO2 warming effects that flying causes.”
However, T&E nevertheless highlights some “notable policy progress” in the 2020s, such as the Jet Zero Council which was established in July 2020, and the UK government’s intention to consult on a SAF mandate in November 2020. In April 2021, according to T&E, “the UK Government announced an intention to include emissions from all departing flights from the UK in its carbon budgets.
“By taking responsibility for these emissions the government has committed itself to implementing policies that ensure carbon emissions from the sector reach net zero by 2050,” the authors of the policy paper explained, going on to declare that “2022 is a crucial year in climate change policy terms for UK aviation.
“The UK government will consult and decide on both how to make the UK ETS net-zero compliant; what the specific details of the sustainable aviation mandate (SAF) mandate are; and lay out a final Jet Zero strategy.”