Net zero flights take off in African skies

by Conrad Onyango, bird story agency…..

Several African carriers are highlighting the potential transition to cleaner fuels as they take a lead role in the development of a global Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Registry to accelerate uptake of the clean fuels.

Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways are leading this effort on the continent.

Royal Air Maroc recently operated its first net zero flight within Africa, from Morocco’s capital, Casablanca, to Senegal’s capital, Dakar in May as it begins a journey to carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a promotional video on its YouTube channel, Royal Air Maroc has highlighted the use of clean fuels and described the construction materials and shape of the airplane wings used in its Boeing planes, along with various ascending and descending techniques, to emphasize its commitment to scaling the use of clean fuels.

“We strongly believe Morocco is set play a crucial role in scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuel in the future. We are deeply committed to solving our sustainability equation,” said Royal Air Maroc, Vice President, Innovation and Strategy El Yaalaoui Mehdi.

Royal Air Maroc Head of fuel management department, Hanane Nouri said the transition is basically a change of behaviour since it will be replacing the classical fossil fuel by an alternative product derived from a sustainable feedstock.

“For this particular flight, we used 40% of SAF derived from used cooking oil. It is a sustainable feedstock not competing food and food crops and its carbon impact is calculated all over its life cycle. For our very first flight with SAF, the carbon reduction is estimated to be more than 80% which amounts to a total 23 tonnes of carbon emissions,” said Nouri.

In early June, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) included Kenya Airways in a list of 17 global airlines that will spearhead the development of a registry- to facilitate the creation of a global Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) market. It will ensure that airlines can access SAF regardless of its place of production, and that SAF producers can reach airlines irrespective of their location.

“By taking on a pivotal role in developing the registry, KQ significantly builds trust and confidence in SAF as a viable solution for reducing aviation’s environmental impact,” said Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and CEO Allan Kilavuka.

In May 2023, Kenya Airways (KQ) made history as the first African airline to operate a sustainable commercial long-haul flight from Africa to Europe. In October 2023, the airline received the Most Impactful Breakthrough award for pioneering the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

Now, Kenya Airways is set to be the sole African airline to pilot the SAF Registry, which is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2025.

This initiative involves major airlines such as American Airlines, Delta Airlines, the IAG airline group, six national authorities, and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) Airbus, Boeing, and GE Aerospace, as well as fuel producer World Energy.

The SAF Registry aims to ensure compliance with agreed-upon SAF accounting and reporting principles, aligning with international protocols and industry best practices. It will prevent double counting and double claiming, and guarantee the integrity and immutability of all interventions under the Registry.

According to International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh, the SAF Registry will address the critical needs of all stakeholders and contribute to the global effort to scale up SAF production.

IATA forecasts a threefold increase in SAF production in 2024 to 1.9 billion liters (1.5 million tonnes), accounting for 0.53% of aviation fuel demand in 2024.

”SAF will provide about 65% of the mitigation needed for airlines to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. So the expected tripling of SAF production in 2024 from 2023 is encouraging,” said Walsh in a statement.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, has also been focused on enhancing fuel efficiency.

The airline has collaborated with governmental and private sector stakeholders, including Boeing and Airbus, fuel supply companies, and technology institutes, to pave the way for local production of environmentally friendly jet fuel.

In April 2023, Ethiopian Airlines received its 20th A350-900 aircraft from Airbus, which operated using a 30% blend of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), demonstrating its commitment to creating a sustainable air transport industry.

Similar developments have been recorded in South Africa, affirming the country is making headways towards cleaner aviation fuels. In March, giant energy firm, Sasol formed a joint venture with Topsoe, a player in carbon emission reduction technologies to produce and distribute SAF- helping to accelerate the decarbonization of global aviation.

The joint venture, Zaffra has been dedicated to advancing sustainable aviation fuel production and technologies in South Africa.

“Zaffra’s establishment marks a significant step towards achieving a more sustainable future for aviation, aligned with global efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions,” according to a joint statement.

According to IATA, the aviation industry emitted 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019, accounting for about 2% of total global CO2 emissions.

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