Plotting the decarbonising course

January 26, 2024

Source: Irish Times Aviation & Finance Special Report

Advances are notable in areas like sustainable aviation fuel but production is low in the context of industry requirements

Elizabeth Bowen, Director, Aircraft Leasing Ireland (ALI), interview with Danielle Barron, Irish Times

As the climate crisis finally begins to imbue us all with a sense of urgency, the pressure on the aviation industry to carbonise and deliver on net zero ambitions is increasing every year. Advances are being made in areas like sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) but production is at miniscule levels in comparison to the industry's needs. 

What is the industry doing to reach its net zero targets, how realistic are those targets, and what is the aviation finance sector doing to help?

"Aviation is a complex industry governed by an extensive regulatory environment" says Elizabeth Bowen, director of Ibec's Aircraft Leasing Ireland (ALI). "This means that the technological leaps required to address the climate threat are measured in decades rather than years and in turn means that our transition to carbon neutrality by 2050 is critically dependent on actions taken today, even though the results of those actions are not immediately apparent".

It is Bowen's view that the "single most realistic way" to make a meaningful dent in aviation's climate impact this decade would be through contrail management. This approach seeks to avoid the creation of net warming contrails through small adjustments to flight plan altitude. "The EU will require airlines to report on non-CO2 impacts like contrails this decade" she explains. "Unlike SAF or air space modernisation, however, contrail management is directly within the influence of airlines to make a difference.

Sustainability Charter

ALI launched the ALI Sustainability Charter, the first set of ESG and climate-aligned principles for the aviation industry promoting collaboration and ambition among the lessor community in October 2022.  "As owners of almost half the global fleet of aircraft, the leasing community has the experience and global influence necessary to move the needle and drive aviation towards a sustainable future".

Ongoing research and innovation will be a critical element of this, and Bowen says ALI members are supporting improvements in aircraft design and operational efficiency. For example, ALI is funding a new research project on SAF production in Ireland in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin and University of Limerick and is a member of the Government's SAF Taskforce looking to bring about the development of a national SAF policy roadmap.

To read this article in full, as well as other articles in this Irish Times special report, please download here. 

Irish Times Aviation Finance Special Report pdf | 6226.5 kb