Aviation will be the world’s role model for how the massive challenges of decarbonisation can be overcome through agreed targets, commitment to innovation and international collaboration.

That was the conclusion of the first Global Aviation Summit 2022 organised by Cranfield University and ATAG (Air Transport Action Group) on Wednesday 14 September 2022. ATAG is an association that represents all sectors of the air transport industry, and gives a platform for the commercial aviation sector to work together on long-term sustainability issues.

The aim of the Summit was to draw together thinking on the state of aviation in terms of progress against the net zero 2050 targets, the major achievements, the barriers, lessons learned, and how the sector can best make further substantial and immediate progress. Over 100 invited professionals internationally live streamed or accessed the Summit’s global debate.

There was general agreement across contributors that hitting the 2050 target would be achievable through two major stages: the widespread adoption of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) in the short-term to demonstrate carbon reductions; followed by a more radical stage where infrastructure would need to adapt to zero carbon technologies such as hydrogen and electric. At the same time, it was said, aviation needed to keep a holistic view of its impact — not just carbon — and take advantage of all the available technologies and offerings that would improve sustainability: direct air capture (DAC), offsetting projects, demand management, air traffic management, and efficiencies of all kinds across fuel use and operations.

Mohamed Khalifa Rahma, Director of the Air Transport Bureau at ICAO, said it was a new beginning for the sector. Aviation had the opportunity to build back better and leaner — but international co-operation was needed now more than ever before.

“It is imperative that we have a global consensus and that no country is left behind,” he said. “There is a need for sustainable fuels to be available on a global commercial scale, for example. ICAO is working to catalyse collaboration and encourage capacity-building, helping to reach agreements between states to fully develop sustainable fuels and their deployment.”

Haldane Dodd, Executive Director at ATAG, said: “Before Covid we had $7 billion worth of sustainable aviation fuel offtake agreements — during Covid that has increased to $25 billion. This is a sector that is moving very rapidly and we’re getting more and more interest from the finance community and also from governments to actually make this happen. We’re in a really exciting place, but we need to push further to continue the momentum and accelerate progress on sustainable fuel.”

Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “While progress is being made across the industry, in adaptation to sustainable aviation fuels and aircraft and operations efficiencies, there needs to be a further acceleration of change. We need rapid evolution of zero carbon technologies, and that will be dependent on a solid foundation of research evidence, backed up with investment and commitment along the way.

“As a global research airport, Cranfield is in a unique position to work with industry and other universities internationally to test technologies within a fully formed aviation eco-system in which to design, build and fly aircraft. The sector will need more people with specific skills and expertise — and that will be another of the major challenges as aviation has to compete with so many other sectors dealing with their own race for decarbonisation.”

Jim Angus, Commercial Director of the Integrated Vehicle Health Management Centre at Cranfield University, said, ”The Global Aviation Summit has consolidated a growing academic-industry partnership between Cranfield and ATAG. It has brought together many of the best minds in our industry and beyond, raising ambition to address climate change & biodiversity. Despite the global economic headwind and socio-political challenges faced, the speakers and panellists reaffirmed the industry's determination to achieve net zero by 2050. The Summit also emphasised the importance of action in the short term (this decade) to achieve the 2050 goal, starting with sustainable aviation fuels.”

The event ran for 13 hours to allow for input from speakers and audiences across time zones, following the sun from Oceania to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Europe. Arguments and insights were shared from across the highest ranks of the aviation industry, including: Willie Walsh, Director General, IATA; Mohamed Khalifa Rahma.

Director, Air Transport Bureau, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Luis Gallego, Chief Executive, International Airlines Group; Sean Doyle, CEO & Chairman, British Airways; Sir Martin Donnelly, President, Boeing Europe; Dr Frank Haselbach, Senior Vice President (Propulsion Engineering), Airbus; Alan Newby, Director of Aerospace Technology and Future Programmes, Rolls Royce; Axel Krein, Executive Director, Clean Aviation; Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Travel Organisation; Julia Simpson President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and, Dame Helen Atkinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, Cranfield University.

Cranfield University already plays a significant role in accelerating sustainable aviation research and translating this to regulated aviation.

More information on the Global Aviation Summit 2022 can be found on our website.