Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), created from household and industrial waste instead of fossil fuels, can offer up to 80% fewer carbon emissions over their lifecycle than traditional jet fuel, but their mass-rollout is hindered by lack of supply, resulting in high prices and subsequently, low demand.Read more
It’s not surprising that within the aviation industry it is new, innovative fuels like hydrogen, battery or sustainable aviation fuels that receive the most attention from commentators. After all, it’s kerosene that causes the emissions.Read more
For a major international airport, Heathrow, unlike its European rivals, is poorly served by rail access. Currently, Heathrow is only directly linked by eastward-facing rail lines towards central London that neglect the huge number of passenger flows to the south and west of the airport.Read more
As part of the effort to decarbonise aviation, it’s often Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) that receive the attention. They are of course important, and immediately available - which helps. But whilst SAFs can cut carbon today, it has been said that hydrogen could eliminate carbon from aviation in the future. Let's explore this for a moment.
Over the last few weeks, the UK has quietly set out its credentials for it to lead the way in research on the use of hydrogen for powering aircraft.Read more
I want to pay tribute to Iqbal Singh Vaid today, on behalf of Back Heathrow, but also personally. Sadly, Iqbal passed away on Wednesday 23rd March, at the age of 78 after battling long-term illness.
But battling is something Iqbal Singh was renowned for in west London, where he was a pillar of our local community.
He was a retired BA employee, a General Secretary of the Indian Workers Association (IWA) and received many accolades from Unite the union. Many of us will remember him as a passionate trade unionist and a powerful orator. His oratory was as strong and clear in English as it was in his native Punjabi.
Influential people wanted to hear what he had to say, not just because he was clear in his beliefs on issues like workplace rights, equality, job creation and the expansion of Heathrow, but because they knew he was embedded in the community he loved – he spoke for many people. Iqbal took his passion for grassroots organisation from the union movement to the Indian Workers Association.
Personally, I enjoyed his counsel. He was knowledgeable, articulate and wise. To have all those qualities in such abundance is a rare thing.
He will be missed by many people, particularly his family and the Southall community in which he served with distinction.
Our thoughts are with his family and his many friends.
Parmjit Dhanda and all at Back Heathrow
The Back Heathrow campaign has a long-standing interest in a successful aviation industry – the clue is in our name.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that we are very concerned by forecasts from the New Economics Foundation that up to 124,000 jobs are at risk across aviation and the wider supply chain it supports.
Employers, trade unions and the government all have a part to play in ensuring we tackle the Covid 19 pandemic whilst also keeping the aviation industry going strong. It was right for the government to take steps to minimise unnecessary travel but wrong that, so far, it has failed to properly understand the crisis in towns adjacent to airports and offer the support necessary to protect jobs that will be key to the country’s recovery.
One of the reasons for this lack of focus on aviation is that the industry and trade unions have been largely ignored when they have argued their case.
Back Heathrow therefore supports calls from the aviation industry and the TUC for the establishment of a tripartite body of government, trade unions and industry to replace the rejigged but smaller Environmental Social and Governance Group to guide aviation into the recovery and beyond.
Now, more than ever we need a plan for how the aviation industry can safely return to normal including some targeted support which recognises the seasonal and interconnected nature of the aviation sector.
Back Heathrow believes that if the government really wants to safeguard as many jobs as possible in the sector then it needs to provide support to retain capacity and capability to rebuild and recover. A recent report from the industry and trade unions calling for ‘full business rates relief – including the full furlough scheme remaining in place whilst restrictions are in in force’ and ‘a commitment to invest in technology to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation industry’ is the minimum required and should be supported.
Although, the March Budget statement did extend the job retention scheme, there was no mention of aviation. It was a missed opportunity.
A strong aviation sector is needed if the UK is to have a strong post-COVID recovery, both in terms of international trade and vital employment opportunities in all regions of the UK. It is now down to the government to listen to the aviation industry and its strong trade union base, to give the economy the much needed boost it needs.
There were high hopes for the Chancellor’s budget speech. His promise to do “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” to support UK jobs and businesses is exactly what the aviation sector needed to hear.
His plans to extend the job retention scheme seemed to signal an appreciation that the economic crisis is far from over, so his failure to even mention aviation will be a huge disappointment to the 1m people who work in the sector and its supply chain and who will be feeling vulnerable after the budget.
The extension of support for jobs and training is welcome and the “Super-deduction” announced may help contractors to invest, but so much else was missing.
How can there be hope for a green economy without support for specifics like sustainable aviation fuel? The Chancellor projects growth of below 2% in the medium term – how could stronger growth be sustained unless aviation is thriving?
Heathrow is the UK’s biggest port by value and Global Britain cannot get off the ground without it – and a strong aviation sector. Support for aviation is essential if it is to help boost the economic recovery.
Aviation benefits almost every other sector – when it suffers, so do the jobs it sustains, as was underlined by parliamentary data published recently which shows unemployment rising around Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted at well over double the national rate.
The Chancellor’s failure to mention aviation at all is hugely disappointing. The only support offered is the existing Airports & Ground Operations Support Scheme, which offsets business rates, with a cap per airport of £8m – but Heathrow alone pays £120m per year.
Back Heathrow has long called for a 100% waiver of airport business rates as has been offered to other sectors. Local politicians of all parties support this but the Chancellor is not listening.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “The absence of any meaningful support from the Government will weaken the sector and limit UK growth at the time it is needed most.”
It is difficult to disagree. So come on Mr Sunak, you said: “Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” – now it’s time to put your arms around aviation.
Rivalry between Europe and the US over the best sustainable aviation fuels could hinder plans to tackle aviation emission targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
EU proposals will mean a minimum of ‘green’ fuel would have to be used in every aircraft flying within the EU, with incentives to boost production.
However, the last time something similar was attempted, the US objected and the proposals were subsequently dropped. Although greener fuels are around 80% less carbon emitting than conventional aviation fuel, they are also up to four times more expensive to produce. Needless to say in the current economic crisis no airline wants to be undercut by a rival, even if it is for a greener fuel.
And it isn’t just cost – debate also rages over the type of aviation fuel that best meets the carbon challenge and is commercially viable and sustainable – a choice between biofuels and electrofuels.
In 2021, renewable fuels account for just 0.05% per cent of total jet fuel consumption in the EU because previous attempts to encourage take-up of sustainable fuels through tax incentives and carbon trading schemes have failed.
But just how green is green? The debate within the aviation industry is about how sustainable ‘biofuels’ are, with some airlines opposed to the inclusion of crop based biofuels like palm oil because of environmental consequences. Palm oil is under scrutiny because processing it into fuel enhances its commercial value and encourages deforestation.
Technology now allows fuel to be produced from non-biological resources by blending conventional kerosene with renewable hydrocarbon and the term ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ (SAF) is used to highlight their sustainable nature.
Unsurprisingly, EU states will lobby for options that suit their own industries. Sweden favours a broad definition for sustainable fuels, including crop-based biofuels, whilst Germany is opposed to biofuels and wants to promote next generation electrofuels – created by combining hydrogen extracted from water with carbon taken from the air.
At the moment nearly half of aviation emissions are generated by long-haul flights which are not suitable for electric and hydrogen technologies so SAFs remain the fuel of choice in aviation. There is hope that COP26 – the UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November - will broker global agreements to ensure the future use of SAFs.
Back home the conundrum that faces the UK is how to achieve growth and cut carbon. Solving it is crucial to achieving the aim of meeting the global demands for trade and travel, whilst meeting the all-important target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. International agreements on SAFs will have a crucial role to play.
The idea of a health passport has been floated for a few months now. Airports, airlines and governments have all expressed interest in an online system that could track immunisation to Covid-19.
This would be in the form of an app or digital certificate – including vaccination and test records – giving everyone immune to Covid-19 digital proof of their health, and the ability to travel to countries that participate in the scheme.
European countries have urged the EU to come up with a co-ordinated certification that will be accepted across all member states.
The UN World Tourism Organisation secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “The roll-out of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, co-ordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel.”
Australian airline Qantas has announced it will require passengers to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before they board. Australian borders are closed to visitors and residents must quarantine for 14 days from arrival. A vaccine passport would offer an alternative to that system.
In October 2020, a trial of a digital ‘health passport’ was held at Heathrow Airport. CommonPass was the first step towards creating a common international standard for Covid-free certificates. Participants were required to take a Covid test no sooner than 72 hours before their flight. If negative, the app generates a ‘QR’ code to be scanned by border officials and airline staff, without disclosing any other sensitive data.
The International Air Transport Association is also working on a system (called Travel Pass) which in its simplest form will be a centralised database of national entry requirements. It will also carry vaccine and testing information.
Mvine and iProov (identity management companies) have already developed such an app in the UK, which is in the final stages of testing. This app will give access to the vaccination and testing data of individuals, without disclosing their identity. Additionally, it will piggy-back on existing NHS infrastructure, so roll-out may become easier and cheaper.
The pandemic has brought the travel industry to its knees. While we are still early in the process of mass vaccination, making it compulsory to have a vaccine to board a plane or enter the country will not give the travel industry the boost it so desperately needs. Not in the short term anyway.
But if vaccine passports also carry information about a recent negative test or anti-body presence, then they can become part of an approach that can help revitalise the travel industry and begin and kick start economic recovery.
There is hope around the corner, and it can’t come soon enough.