Building a decarbonised air cargo world

All aviation stakeholders must work together to achieve the Fly Net Zero target by 2050, which the industry has committed to, and put aside other impending environmental challenges in order to focus on this important goal.

Building a decarbonised air cargo world

Every year, over US $6 trillion worth of goods are carried by air, accounting for approximately 35% of world trade by value, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Supporting reliable, efficient and cost-effective air cargo transportation is paramount to strong regional economies and the aviation industry's recovery. Environmentalists, on the other hand, are less than impressed, as aviation freight contributes significantly to CO2 emissions. With climate change and sustainability being discussed these days, air cargo carriers are being compelled to reconsider their operations in order to reduce their environmental effect.

Transport currently generates 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, that's a huge number. Reducing the GHG emissions produced by transport is a big challenge but by no means an impossible one. Many tools already exist to reverse rising transport emissions—policies, infrastructure investments, and new technologies.

Sustainable approach: What is the industry doing?
According to current IATA forecasts, demand for aircraft passenger travel may exceed 10 billion by 2050. Carbon emissions are predicted to reach roughly 21.2 gigatonnes of CO2 on a 'business as usual' trajectory.

"The ecosystem should collaborate on sustainability instead of competing. We do not compete on safety, nor should we on sustainability. Our aim is to mobilize the aviation industry by bringing together airlines, airports, individuals, and relevant associations"

Michiel Potjer, Cargo Sustainability Lead, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo

The airline sector, which accounts for about 3% of global CO2 emissions, has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 in order to assist reduce global warming, and the airlines are optimistic about it.

Lufthansa Cargo has already made significant efforts toward its sustainability goal, including the largest fleet modernisation in the company's history. Investments in the next generation of freighters, the Boeing 777-8F, will dramatically cut CO2 emissions. These significant investments in Lufthansa Cargo demonstrate the airline's confidence in the future development of the airfreight business and the role it will continue to play in it.

"For Lufthansa Cargo, sustainability is a very important pillar in the company's overall strategy. Nearly 98% of our carbon footprint comes from flying, so this is our biggest lever to focus on. But reducing the environmental impact on the ground is also important. Every action counts. At Lufthansa Cargo, we aim for achieving 100% CO2 neutrality by 2050. Our target is to have CO2 neutral mobility in 2030, which requires energy reduction on the ground and investments in green power and green technologies. We are on the way to establishing proper worldwide waste management. Our target for 2025 is to have a 100% material recycling quota of plastic foil. Additionally, we are looking into options to realise a closed loop," said Jacqueline Casini, Senior Director Communications & Corporate Responsibility, Lufthansa Cargo.

Air France KLM Martinair Cargo aims to reduce CO2 emissions per passenger km (pax)/revenue tonne km (cargo) by 30% by 2030 compared to 2019. By 2030, there will be no emissions from ground operations, a 50% reduction in non-recycled trash compared to 2011, and a 10% reduction in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) onboard aircraft.

"Our short-term carbon-neutral growth strategy is fleet modernisation and renewal. When compared to earlier aircraft, the purchase of 787s, A350s, and A220s will lead to a 25% reduction in emissions. SAF is the medium-term aim. The usage of SAF on a larger scale is an important aspect of the future of sustainable aviation. IATA/UN provides the most effective option. Breakthrough technologies are the long-term objective. Some of the advances toward ultimate environmental effect reduction include hydrogen and electric aircraft," said Michiel Potjer, Cargo Sustainability Lead, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo.

In March 2021, Air Canada announced its Climate Action Plan by setting a long-term goal to achieve net-zero GHG emissions, throughout all its global operations (including cargo) by 2050. As part of the announcement Air Canada also committed to investing $50 million in SAF and carbon reductions and removals technologies.

"Air Canada's environmental approach to sustainability is two-fold, Leave Less and Do More. We aim to leave less throughout the airline's operations — less carbon in our atmosphere, less waste in our land and water, and less noise in our communities. We also aim to do more to address environmental issues — more collaboration and participation with industry partners, more involvement in communities the airline serves and with valued employees and customers to have an even greater impact on its efforts. In November 2022, Air Canada announced Bolloré Logistics as its first Cargo customer to join the program," said Jason Berry, Vice President Cargo, Air Canada.

Supporting the carbon-neutral initiative
Today, sustainability has reached the top of the corporate agenda, putting further pressure on the aviation sector and its environmental performance. With the industry's commitment to attaining the Fly Net Zero target by 2050, it is vital for all aviation stakeholders to work together to achieve this critical goal while also looking ahead to other emerging environmental issues. How can airports and airlines effectively support this initiative and address environmental sustainability challenges?

"Airports and airlines ideally join forces when it comes to reaching sustainability goals as they act in the same environment and every action of the respective partner has an impact on one another. Discuss and commit to the same goals and define common targets and timelines. Make your customer your like-minded cooperation partner on this journey. We have very strong partnerships with DB Schenker, Kühne + Nagel, Röhling, Kintetsu… By not only transporting freight on freighters but also on passenger planes, we are expanding our network. Additionally, it leads to higher utilization of the flight, which increases efficiency. The Fuel Efficiency team of the Lufthansa Group airlines have been working together for years to develop fuel-saving measures and find synergies," said Casini.

"Global aviation is a complex ecosystem involving airlines, passengers, but also aircraft manufacturers, fuel suppliers, airports, governments and industry bodies. Countless interesting initiatives are happening worldwide; by uniting, we can catalyze accelerate and transform the industry and meet the climate goals. We need our entire ecosystem to work together to transform aviation; for example for innovation in aircraft design, new engine technology and sustainable fuels.

The ecosystem should collaborate on sustainability instead of competing. We do not compete on safety, nor should we on sustainability. Our aim is to mobilize the aviation industry by bringing together airlines, airports, individuals, and relevant associations," said Potjer.

"It takes time to see results. Our goal is to use even more SAF in the future. We are also committed to moving forward in digitalization and being mindful when using resources in our handling processes."

Jacqueline Casini, Senior Director Communications & Corporate Responsibility, Lufthansa Cargo

Air Canada is at the forefront of pivotal Canadian aviation initiatives supporting and advancing the research and commercialization of SAF within an ecosystem consisting of airlines, airports, fuel suppliers, technology providers, feedstock producers, aerospace manufacturers, academia, finance, and government.

"Air Canada has identified four carbon reduction pillars that will guide us on our path towards net-zero 2050. This includes a more modern fleet of aircraft and ground equipment, as well as improved efficiencies from operations; Innovation (such as the agreement to purchase 30 electric-hybrid aircraft); use of sustainable aviation fuels and clean energy; and carbon reductions and removals such as carbon offsets and investing in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology that pulls CO2 directly out of the air at large, industrial scale," said Berry.

Air Canada is a founding member and was actively engaged in the development of the Canadian Council for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (C-SAF). Air Canada is also a founding member of, and the first Canadian carrier to join, the Aviation Climate Taskforce (ACT), formed to tackle the challenge of rising CO2 emissions from commercial aviation. Made up of 10 global airlines and the Boston Consulting Group, it was established in 2021 to accelerate research and advance innovation related to emerging decarbonization technologies, including through the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

Challenges faced with sustainable initiative
As millions prepare to travel and order goods online over the holiday season, the airline sector is under increasing pressure from environmentally conscious travellers to expedite its sustainability efforts. Decarbonization of aviation is key to achieving climate goals by mid-century. While many organizations have pledged to achieve net zero, obstacles stand in the way.

"The demand for SAF is growing as the airline industry looks to reduce its carbon footprint. Unfortunately, at this time, SAF is not currently available in Canada. IATA lists SAF as one of the key elements to help the aviation industry achieve its ambitious 2050 emissions reduction goals. We understand that SAF is the only technology solution currently commercially available that can meaningfully abate emissions from the company's flight operations. While SAF can reduce lifecycle GHG emissions by up to 80% compared with conventional jet fuel and has the added benefits of having a limited impact on performance and providing energy diversification, SAF alone will not suffice, and new technology solutions, as well as significant cooperation and investments, will be required to achieve 2050 emissions reduction goals," said Berry.

AFKLM recently announced to buy more than one million tonnes of SAF from supplier Neste over an eight-year period from 2023. But Potjer believes that making SAF economically viable and scale production is a challenge. The SAF supply needs to be further increased.

"As a group, we are recovering and balancing between healthy financial performance and investing in sustainability. To fully embed sustainability within our organization the governance structure needs to mature and reach all levels of our organization. This takes time and training. From a national level (the Netherlands and France), EU level and worldwide level we need effective regulations to move towards a more sustainable aviation industry," said Potjer.

Lufthansa Cargo transports a wide range of time-sensitive and valuable cargo, facilitating worldwide trade. Given the nature of some cargo commodities, air transport is sometimes the only viable option. As a result, air cargo helps significantly to the optimum handling of these specialized items by delivering them in a safe, timely, and sustainable manner.

"It takes time to see results. Our goal is to use even more SAF in the future. We are also committed to moving forward in digitalization and being mindful when using resources in our handling processes. We continuously monitor and evaluate the numbers of our achievements, make plans, trying to further integrate our sustainability approach into our everyday business. We all benefit from a globalized world, living it every day in small and large ways. Our cargo business consists of flying goods around the world, thus enabling production chains and securing jobs. We'd like to continue with that, but in a sustainable way, also in line with the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. It requires lots of dedicated minds and also budgets (i.e. upgrading an airline's fleet, investing in SAF, using lighter loading materials to save weight on board) and also the commitment of our customers to tackle the challenges ahead and remain committed," said Casini.

Jon Godson, Assistant Director of Sustainability at IATA, stated during a recent IATA Webinar on The Importance of Environmental Management Systems for Aviation that the industry will have a difficult time reaching net zero by the year 2050 due to the lack of readily accessible, workable technical solutions that require significant investment. Therefore, it will take years to create and upgrade sustainable aviation fuel and zero-emission aircraft.

"Air transport, along with many other organizations face the challenge related to sustainability reporting. The problem of reporting on sustainability affects many other companies, including the transport industry. It was estimated last year that 614 distinct sustainability reporting tools have been implemented globally across more than 80 nations, many of which had an influence on multinational corporations. The corporate sustainability reporting rule was enacted by the EU earlier this month, requiring 50,000 enterprises, including non-EU parent corporations, to provide independently verified sustainability data," said Godson.

Need for Environmental Management System(EMS)
EMS is a framework that will assist the business in coordinating its activities, goals, and efforts. It will also enable businesses to manage, monitor, and assess their performance while making optimal use of their resources.

"We see more and more companies jumping into new initiatives that are not coordinated centrally and this is why we think that having a specific framework at a central level might be beneficial for them," said Oscar Leon, Project Manager of Environmental Sustainability Certificate, IATA at the recent IATA Webinar.

"Our industry operates in what is known as a "hard-to-abate" sector. Real progress will require reducing emissions at the source and requires partnership, innovation, and significant resources and attention."

Jason Berry, Vice President Cargo, Air Canada

"Currently, there is a lack of measurements in the industry. An EMS can help us to develop a better understanding of our concrete footprint and consequently develop an effective roadmap towards CO2 reduction," said Potjer.

Measure, monitor, track, and continuously improve the performance of any initiative or environmental management plan using EMS, which also enables keeping records, analyzing ongoing improvements, tracking performance data, and better responding to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting requirements.

"Air Canada already had an EMS in place prior to opting for an airline-tailored EMS. Air Canada has advanced to a third-party certified system through the IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA) Program. This is specifically developed for the airline sector and demonstrates equivalency to the ISO 14001: 2015 environmental management systems standard. The program supports our efforts to reduce waste, pollution and GHG emissions and to improve environmental performance." said Berry.

Is carbon-neutral possible by 2050?
Everyone is expecting the sector to take action in response to the mounting pressure to address environmental problems. This is being imposed on how, now more than ever, business leaders are discussing sustainability and environmental issues, making this a subject that simply cannot be ignored.

At the 77th IATA Annual General Meeting on 4 October 2021 in Boston, USA, IATA member airlines committed to attaining net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050. This promise aligns air transport with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

It will take the combined efforts of the whole industry (airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, manufacturers) as well as major government assistance to succeed. But is it practically possible to achieve this goal by 2050? We asked.

Yes, I absolutely believe that it is possible to become carbon-neutral by 2050. It will not be easy but it is feasible! We do not compete on safety, nor should we on sustainability. The whole is greater than the sum of all parts: Our aim is to mobilize the aviation industry by bringing together airlines, airports, individuals, and relevant associations to move toward a carbon-neutral industry by 2050," said Potjer.

"Our industry operates in what is known as a "hard-to-abate" sector. Real progress will require reducing emissions at the source and requires partnership, innovation, and significant resources and attention. Air Canada is committed to playing its role and being a leader in pursuit of this goal. We will continue to pursue and invest in sound solutions as we seek to overcome these challenges. Both our industry and Air Canada have a long way to go, but our commitments have enabled us to begin and pursue our efforts toward achieving our long-term goal of net zero by 2050," said Berry.

Despite challenges, there is a trend in the business where airports are devoting significant and increasing amounts of financial, administrative, and other resources to the sustainability issue, as well as conversing and working with other stakeholders in the industry. The business community is putting in the effort to identify how the environmental issues may need to be addressed from a commercial aspect and make sure the industry is carbon neutral by 2050.

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