12. March 2021 Meghan Sapp

Coalition calling for long-haul flights to be included in EU’s ReFuel aviation initiative

In Belgium, a coalition of airlines, aviation sector companies and European NGOs have expressed their concern over policy proposals to limit the scope of the European Union’s ReFuel EU Aviation initiative to intra-EEA flights. The legislation, to be proposed by the Commission, is expected to oblige the aviation sector to mix a percentage of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) into kerosene- based fuel.

In a letter, sent to Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean, the coalition point out that long-haul operations are the primary source of the sector’s climate impact. According to recent Eurocontrol figures, just 6% of flights, those over 4000km in length, create half of aviation’s CO2 emissions. Eurocontrol concludes: “Increasing the supply of sustainable aviation fuel to cover just 10% of the needs of long-haul, would do more than can ever be done in short-haul to reduce net CO2 emissions”. Moreover, extra-EEA flights and long-haul hub operations are already excluded from many European environmental policies such as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

For short-haul flying, SAFs are only an interim step, similar to offsetting, until zero-emissions technologies, such as hydrogen or electric propulsion aircraft, will be available by the mid to late-2030s. These new, zero-emissions technologies, however, are not available for long-haul aviation in the foreseeable future, therefore SAFs continue to be key for long-haul aviation to mitigate its carbon emissions.

In addition, by potentially raising costs, SAFs could detract from ongoing efforts by technology manufacturers and short-haul carriers to switch to cleaner, zero-emissions solutions. The signatories therefore call on the European Commission to ensure the SAFs mandate does not delay the development of zero-emission propulsion (i.e. hydrogen or electric).

The letter says the European Commission needs to exclude biofuels from dedicated cropland and ensure that advanced biofuels are sustainable and mandates for best-in-class fuels, such as synthetic kerosene, are included.