By Joanna Plucinska, Tim Hepher and Aditi Shah
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Airlines took aim at Europe over green fuel mandates and its failures to stem France’s air traffic control strikes as they weigh on carrier capacities at a global airlines meeting in Istanbul on Monday.
European regulators have introduced a new mandate demanding airlines use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), an alternative to jet fuel that produces fewer carbon emissions but is between two to four times more expensive than its traditional alternative.
New rules will require fuel suppliers to ensure they can make 2% of fuel available at EU airports SAF by 2025, rising to 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035 and gradually to 70% in 2050.
“I think it’s fair to portray the EU as being anti-aviation, whereas other parts of the world are very positive, pro-aviation,” International Air Transport Association (IATA) head Willie Walsh said on Monday at the group’s annual meeting.
Officials lambasted Europe for introducing a mandate, arguing that a global approach to increasing SAF production or tax incentives like those introduced by the United States under the Inflation Reduction Act would be more effective.
EU officials have said they are also helping to support the industry in its green transition through credits and other benefits and that the timelines for the mandates were reasonable.
In 2021, the body released its strategy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including a progressive increase in sustainable aviation fuel use.
During its annual meeting this week, IATA highlighted its roadmap to that goal, which will include a tool to track the amount of SAF airlines are purchasing and using in order to facilitate accountability across the sector.
Officials said that, while figures on SAF use by individual airlines won’t be publicly available, the tracking tool will help show the progress of the whole sector.
Walsh also called for a global system that would allow airlines to buy SAF for others to use, even if they don’t fuel up their own planes with it.
“Just as location makes no difference on the impact of CO2 emissions, it has no impact on where SAF is uplifted and used either. A global approach to book and claim for SAF credits will help facilitate economies of scale in SAF production,” he said.
However, IATA said the EU’s approach could cause more fragmentation by forcing airlines to buy SAF in Europe, ultimately hampering a harmonized global approach and sowing confusion.
“Not only is [Europe] threatening to make the EU’s [emissions trading scheme] extra-territorial, but several European states also want to tax jet fuel – in defiance of the Chicago Convention and almost every bilateral air service agreement,” Walsh said.
Activists in Europe have also argued that solutions such as sustainable aviation fuel and more efficient engines will not be sufficient in helping the industry reach its targets, with many cheering a French ban on some short-haul routes as a step in the right direction.
“We’ve all lived through COVID, we all saw what happened when we lacked connectivity,” said IATA economist Marie Owen Thomsen, adding that she was “flabbergasted” by such a pessimistic pronouncement by environmental groups.
“If we agree that we need aviation, and we agree that we need to do this sustainably, then our focus should be on getting those solutions (like SAF and efficient engines) as fast as possible.”
(Writing by Joanna Plucinska; editing by David Evans)