Monday, May 29, 2023

How Lufthansa is becoming a leader in sustainable air travel

Last year, Lufthansa was among a number of major European airlines, that signed Letters of Intent (LoI) committing to explore opportunities for a future supply of carbon removal credits from direct air carbon capture technology or in layman terms, to capture and store as much CO2 as their planes emit.

If the aviation industry is to achieve its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, investment in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is essential because simply put, sustainable aviation fuels work. Not only does it have proven drop-in technology that have the potential to cut carbon emissions in the range of 70 to 100 per cent, they have so far powered over 450,000 flights.

Lufthansa has always stayed ahead of the carbon-neutral-travel- game, as one of the largest purchasers of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and they continue to make inroads in this journey to offering sustainable travel options, now with its Green Fares, a new carbon-neutral product for the climate-friendly traveler. Offered also by Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Edelweiss, Eurowings Discover and Air Dolomiti on more than 730,000 flights per year within Europe and North Africa, the Green Fares will offers full compensation of CO2 emissions to high-quality climate protection projects.

Another effective instrument for reducing carbon emissions is flying more modern and fuel efficient aircrafts. By 2030, Lufthansa will take delivery of around 200 fuel-efficient aircraft while older aircrafts are being replaced by new aircraft with lower fuel consumption and thus lower CO2 emissions. spoke to Caroline Drischel, Lufthansa Group Head of Corporate Responsibility about how the airline is pioneering the industry with its innovative solutions for aviation of the future.

We’ve been talking about SAF, green fares and new technologies. But the all-important that remains is, can travel truly be sustainable?

Flying connects people, cultures and economies and creates a huge positive impact on a global scale. On the other hand, the global flight industry is responsible for approximately 3 per cent of the worldwide CO2-emissions. The European aviation industry supports the EU’s ambitious climate targets and is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

At Lufthansa Group want to bring aviation and climate protection together, and in doing so we want to lead the transformation of our industry with a clearly defined path with the goal of truly making flying more sustainable.

Is Lufthansa where it needs to be to achieve the net zero by 2050 targets?

The Lufthansa Group aims to achieve a neutral CO2 balance by 2050. By 2030, we want to halve our net CO2 emissions compared to 2019 through reduction and compensation measures.
The 2030 reduction target was validated by the independent Science Based Targets initiative in August 2022: we want to reduce 30.6 per cent CO2 per revenue ton kilometer compared to 2019. We were the first European airline group with “SBTi-approved” near term targets and are a proud front-runner in scientifically proven climate protection targets.

What are your immediate priorities to achieve these goals?

There are three action fields we are preliminary working on: accelerated fleet modernization, which is undoubtedly our biggest lever at the moment, the use of sustainable aviation fuels and the continuous optimization of flight and ground operations to boost efficiency. We invest billions of dollars to acquire over 200 brand-new, fuel-efficient aircraft by 2030. These reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 percent in comparison to their predecessors.

SAF is a huge element in the 2050 goal for the aviation industry. Are there concerns of securing sufficient supplies of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)?

Sustainable aviation fuels play a key role in the future of more sustainable flying. They grant the advantage to use state-of the art modern aircraft and at the same time dramatically reduce in-sector CO2 emissions by more than 80 per cent. However, the quantities available and thus the share in our airlines’ total fuel consumption are still very small.

Therefore, we are actively involved in numerous projects to promote further development and push the market ramp-up of SAF as quickly as possible. In addition, we continuously review options for long-term SAF partnerships and have most recently signed MoUs with Shell and OMV for over 2.6 million metric tons, among others.

What role will technology play in reaching these targets? Is it truly the best or only answer to a more efficient and sustainable business model?

Technology and innovation are crucial to decarbonizing and improving the industry and they will play an even bigger role in the future. Particularly in the regional aircraft segment, there are many concepts for alternative propulsion technologies such as hydrogen engines. We keep a close eye on developments and will use our expertise and size to play an active role in shaping the future of flying. However, no disruptive innovations in aircraft technology are foreseeable in our segments in the next ten years, especially for medium- and long-haul flights. We therefore rely on continuous innovation in aircraft efficiency improvements and SAF production – both enabled by technology.

Can you give us specific examples on how tech solutions can support sustainability in travel?

New aircraft that reduce emissions use state-of-the-art engine technology which has been continuously improved by manufacturers to make them fuel efficient, drastically reduce noise, and increase clean combustion processes. Sustainable aviation fuels also rely on technological improvements and innovation. The future-oriented Power-to-Liquid and Sun-to-Liquid technologies use regeneratively generated electricity or solar heat as energy sources.
As from 2024 onwards, the Lufthansa Group airline SWISS intends to be the world’s first airline to use first volumes of “solar fuel” from our cooperation partner Synhelion. There are also technical innovations copied from nature such as the innovative “AeroSHARK” technology. Lufthansa Technik and BASF developed a shark-skin-structured surface film that reduces aircraft drag and cuts kerosene consumption. As a pioneer in the industry, we already equip more than 20 long-haul aircraft with it.

What regulatory changes are key for sustainable travel to be a reality? And are there any industry-wide changes you would like to see?

Let me answer this question from our point of view as a European airline group: First of all, we need regulations that secure fair competition and avoid carbon leakage. The EU must act here and maintain the competitiveness of EU airlines. To achieve the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050, industry, governments, and society must work together. When it comes to investing in sustainable fuels, which are crucial to decarbonizing aviation, other countries such as the US are currently leading the way.

The EU should prioritize the production of SAF and support not only the producers but airlines using SAF. Revenues of European aviation taxes and emission certificates should be reinvested in decarbonization technologies such as SAF. Also, there is still great potential for fuel savings in European airspace, where we still must fly a lot of detours every day. That’s why we have been calling the Single European Sky for years.

How successful are the ‘Green Fares’ that were introduced by Lufthansa?

Since 2019 we have already introduced several sustainable customer products. The Green Fares further expanded our portfolio of sustainable travel offers in February and have made it even easier for private customers as the new fare already includes full offsetting of flight-related CO2 emissions in the price. It is achieved by using 20 per cent SAF, 80 per cent is done by contributing to high-quality climate protection projects. At the end of last year, around 3 per cent of our customers used one of our various offsetting options for their flight.
With the additional Green Fares, we are confident that at least five percent of our guests will soon be offsetting their CO₂ emissions.

Do you see this demand for sustainable travel from passengers as permanent?

We are convinced that people don’t just want to fly and discover the world – they also want to protect it at the same time. More and more customers will opt for a more sustainable flying option in the future. The Green Fares pay early attention to continuously changing consumer behavior. 

What new initiatives/ developments can we look forward to within the industry in the next few years? Do you see a fundamentally different industry in 10 or 20 years?

Driven by our expertise and clear commitment we are already a pioneer in transforming the industry to a more sustainable one. Our goal is to fly more efficiently and continuously reduce the use of fossil fuels. How quickly this can happen still depends on a variety of factors today, including the quantities of SAF available, the further evolution of current technologies, or the development of new aircraft technologies, such as the maturity of hydrogen engines for large passenger aircraft.

We closely follow developments, analyze them regarding future viability, and participate in various initiatives. For example, we recently joined the First Movers Coalition as first European Airline Group. The global initiative led by the World Economic Forum and the U.S. Department of State brings together countries and companies worldwide to jointly promote the development and deployment of sustainable technologies of the future.

Looking ahead, can aviation reach its target to be carbon neutral by 2050?

The path to carbon neutrality in the aviation sector is long and lined with dependencies of very promising technologies for decarbonization. There will be no silver bullet solution – but a mix of solutions. This will lead the way to the 2050 net zero target.

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