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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has unveiled a series of roadmaps aimed at achieving net zero carbon emissions in the aviation industry by 2050. These roadmaps cover critical aspects including aircraft technology, energy infrastructure, operations, finance, and policy considerations. By providing step-by-step guidance and outlining key dependencies, the roadmaps serve as a reference for policymakers, laying the foundation for necessary innovations and actions.

The adoption of a Long Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 41st Assembly has fostered alignment between governments and industry stakeholders. Together, they are committed to reaching the net zero CO2 emissions target by 2050. 

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General said, “The roadmaps are the first detailed assessment of the key steps necessary to accelerate the transition to net zero by 2050. Together, they show a clear direction and will evolve as we dig deeper to set interim milestones on the way to net zero. I must emphasise that the roadmaps are not just for airlines. Governments, suppliers, and financiers cannot be spectators in aviation’s decarbonisation journey. They have skin in the game. The roadmaps are a call to action for all aviation’s stakeholders to deliver the tools needed to make this fundamental transformation of aviation a success with policies and products fit for a net-zero world.”

A peer-to-peer review, complemented by a modelling tool provided by the Air Transportation Systems Laboratory at University College London (UCL), was conducted to calculate emission reductions for each technology.

Highlights of each roadmap include:

  • Aircraft technology: The roadmap prioritises the development of more efficient aircraft and engines, with a particular emphasis on enabling aircraft powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen, or batteries. All development milestones are supported by announced investments and demonstrator programmes. Additionally, the roadmap includes advancements in engines, aerodynamics, aircraft structures, and flight systems.
  • Energy and new fuels infrastructure: The roadmap places significant attention on the fuels and new energy carrier infrastructure required upstream from airports to facilitate the use of aircraft powered by SAF or hydrogen. Renewable energy plays a crucial role in meeting the energy demands of the aviation sector, and the roadmap outlines milestones to enable the necessary infrastructure developments.
  • Operations: The roadmap identifies opportunities to reduce emissions and enhance energy efficiency by improving the operational practices of existing aircraft. Automation, big data management, and the integration of new technologies are key enablers for optimising air traffic management and improving the overall efficiency of the air transportation system.
  • Policy: The roadmap highlights the need for globally aligned strategic policies to incentivise and support the aviation industry’s transition to a net-zero future. Collaboration between governments and industry stakeholders is vital, as demonstrated in successful energy transitions, to establish the necessary framework for achieving decarbonisation goals.
  • Finance: how to finance the cumulative $5 trillion needed for aviation to achieve net zero by 2050. This includes technological advancements, infrastructure developments, and operational improvements.

The challenges to ramp up SAF production are a good illustration of the importance of these roadmaps. As a drop-in solution, SAF is expected to deliver about 62% of carbon mitigation needed to achieve net zero by 2050. But even though SAF is expected to be fully implementable with future aircraft fleet, it still has major inter-dependencies on policy, aircraft technology, energy infrastructure, financing, and operations for which these roadmaps are critical.

 Marie Owens Thomsen, SVP Sustainability and Chief Economist at IATA said, “Without the right policy incentives and bold investments, many of the technologies and innovations simply won’t happen at scale. Everything is related, and that is why we have the five roadmaps to tie all the parallel elements together and give our stakeholders, including governments, a complete understanding of everything that needs to happen.”