Net Zero 2050 – a target too far? | Airlines

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Can the aviation sector meet IATA’s goal to halve net zero carbon emissions by 2050? Professor KEITH HAYWARD FRAeS weighs up the evidence.

The 77th annual General Meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which took place in October 2021, signed up to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This set challenges for aircraft design, fuel infrastructure, business models and the physical infrastructure of our air transport system – but is the target attainable?

Within the industry there are, to say the least, a wide range of views. Sceptical voices, like Akbar Al Baker, former CEO of Qatar Airways, have described the airline industry’s emissions goals as “a PR exercise,” saying the industry will miss both its initial carbon-reduction 2030 target and fail to meet the 2050 net zero goal.

Meanwhile, IATA Director General, Willie Walsh, was more optimistic but emphasised that reaching the targets will be neither easy nor cheap. Aviation is a ‘hard-to-abate’ industry and current pathways to fulfil the sector’s aspirational goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 are narrow and unclear.

Time is ticking

After three years of intensive studies covering the entire lifecycle of an all-electric aircraft, Tecnam concluded in June 2023 that the time for its P-Volt programme “is not yet ripe, although research activities will continue to explore new emerging technologies.” (Rolls-Royce)

To put things into perspective, we have just over a quarter of a century to meet IATA’s green target…

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