In April 2023, the Sustainable Skies World Summit took place, bringing aviation leaders together to discuss the industry's commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Currently, global aviation contributes 3% of total global CO2 emissions, and without change, this could rise to 22% or more by 2050. The harms caused by aviation go beyond CO2, with Nitrous Oxides and aircraft contrails also adding to the warming effect caused. The summit highlighted the need for innovation in both creating completely new solutions and developing current structures to achieve this goal.

The environmental impact, and the enablers needed from aviation infrastructure are often overlooked in the drive towards net zero emissions. Panel experts from the World Economic Forum, National Grid, Manchester Airports Group, Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), Wheel Tug and British Aviation Group debated the constraints imposed by aviation infrastructure on the environment and discussed improvements needed to support the industry as it transitions. They agreed that a lack of certainty around fuel types and energy developments to achieve net zero adversely impacts infrastructure investment decisions today.

The use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) was discussed at length, but it was acknowledged that SAFs alone would not be enough to support the energy needs of aviation, and that there are substantial costs to scale the infrastructure up to deliver it, and supply the energy to make it. Green hydrogen was identified as an alternative solution that could supply up to 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050. However, adding hydrogen storage and delivery infrastructure at a large airport is reckoned to be financially equivalent to developing a whole new terminal, and the industry cannot achieve this alone. Collaboration between policymakers and the private sector will therefore be required to create the conditions needed for investment to ensure that infrastructure is available to support whichever new fuels the sector needs.

The CEO of Wheel Tug suggested that different solutions to airport infrastructure change can be found if we move away from the current size and shape and design of aircraft, although this would require significant investment. He also pointed out the importance of regulators, who will need to move rapidly and safely to approve the new technologies and infrastructure needed.

Airlander has several advantages in moving around these constraints. It can operate from minimal infrastructure and causes little impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Its ability to take off and land on any relatively flat surface means it is not restricted to traditional aviation infrastructure. It has provision for use with SAFs or hydrogen, and its energy efficiency means that these can be delivered in small quantities for a full day of operations, generally by road. Hybrid Air Vehicles are working with partners including AECOM, and with prospective Airlander operators to map out the infrastructure needs for new sites.

At Hybrid Air Vehicles, we believe that achieving net zero emissions in aviation will require  collaboration, innovation and investment between the public and private sectors at an unprecedented level. Airlander offers some quick wins in our sector’s battle against climate change.

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