Aviation will need significant government support to decarbonize: WestJet CEO | Airlines

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CALGARY — The CEO of Canada’s second-largest airline says the global push to decarbonize the aviation sector by 2050 will lead to a major increase in ticket prices unless governments step in to offer support.

Alexis von Hoensbroech, the CEO of WestJet, made the comments Tuesday at the 24th World Petroleum Congress, a major international oil-and-gas conference being held in Calgary this week.

The theme of the conference is the energy transition and the growing pressure on the fossil fuel sector to address its role in climate change.

Von Hoensbroech said while it may seem odd for an airline to be a featured presenter at an oil and gas conference, airlines are dependent on fossil fuels.

WestJet, for example — which is headquartered in Calgary — is actually the single biggest consumer of petroleum products in the oil-producing province of Alberta, spending upwards of $1 billion annually on jet fuel, von Hoensbroech said.

The global aviation industry itself is responsible for approximately three per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — which represents 300 airlines, including WestJet — committed to reaching net zero by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement global climate treaty.

But von Hoensbroech said while WestJet and other airlines are investing billions in fleet improvements and energy efficiency to reduce their environmental impact, getting to net zero by 2050 will be a major challenge. Electric or hydrogen-powered planes remain a long way from becoming reality, making the aviation sector one of the hardest to decarbonize.

“The last barrel of hydrocarbons produced on this planet are likely to be burned in a jet engine,” von Hoensbroech said at the conference.

Right now, the industry is putting its hopes in what it calls sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, a low-carbon fuel made from renewable materials such as used cooking oils or organic waste.

SAF is a drop-in fuel,…

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