Raúl Martín is an Environment specialist with more than 20 years’ experience, 15 of them in the field of the air sector. As part of SENASA’s Airports and Environment Management team, Raúl Martín has wide experience in the repercussions of aviation on the phenomenon of climate change and the potential mitigation measures to reduce its effects. The European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) or the ICAO Global Compensation Scheme -CORSIA- are some of the measures that he explains about how SENASA responds to the environmental sustainability challenge in the aeronautical sector and its contribution to the sustainable development not only of aviation, but of all areas of society.
Where are we in terms of sustainability in the aeronautical sector?
Although the aeronautical sector has improved its energy efficiency significantly in recent decades -with emissions per travelled kilometre per passenger currently 50% lower than in 1990- it is necessary to take immediate measures that accelerate the effective decarbonisation. In this sense, the sustainability of the sector will be guaranteed from an environmental, social and economic point of view, especially given the serious situation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which the aeronautical industry is facing, and how it has drastically affected it, above all due to its international feature.
At European level, the European Commission presented in December 2020 the "Smart and sustainable mobility strategy", framed within the scope of the European Green Deal Green, adopted in December 2019 and whose objective is the climate neutrality of the EU in 2050. To achieve this, it will be necessary a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of at least 55% in 2030, compared to 1990 levels, something only possible with the contribution of all sectors of our society. Therefore, and in order to achieve these objectives, a package of measures called Fit for 55 was published on July 14th, 2021. With that, the EU proposes a thorough review of the legislation on climate, energy and transport that allows adapting current regulations to the objectives for 2030 and 2050, and that will significantly affect our industry.
In view of this, it seems inevitable the need to take actions to limit and reduce emissions from the air sector in the immediate future.
Is it possible to decarbonize the aeronautical sector?
This is a complex sector, distinguished for its international character and, currently, with limited alternatives for the use of energy sources that satisfy the needs associated with aviation.
The decarbonization of the aeronautical industry requires a common and homogeneous framework, with broad international consensus, and based on a comprehensive approach that includes the application of different measures. Among them, technological, operational and air traffic management improvements, or the development and promotion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Only in this way will the aviation sector be able to achieve the emission reduction targets that society needs and the authorities demand.
In the long way to decarbonization it is necessary to establish intermediate objectives to determine the degree of progress. Undoubtedly, in order to meet these objectives, measures will necessary be complemented by market-based actions, such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme or the ICAO Global Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). In addition to this, these measures will have less influence as we approach the established deadlines.
These market mechanisms should be taken as transitory measures until effective measures to limit or cancel emissions are fully developed. It will be necessary to introduce new sources of propulsion, such as hydrogen or aircraft electrification, which will imply a revolution in aviation.
In this sense, SAF constitute a sheer strategic lever for a short and medium term reduction of net emissions from the airline industry. There are few energy alternatives available currently, and these sustainable fuels represent a technology ready to offer a real alternative to fossil fuels.
What would be the most promising measures in a near future for reducing emissions associated with the aviation sector?
The aviation industry faces an important challenge in order to face decarbonisation in a short and demanding period of time, and for this, it has limited tools. In the past, technology and fleet modernization were crucial to enable drastic emissions reductions; the search for new fuels like hydrogen is an option on the horizon, but it will take time to implement these options. Without any doubt, they will arrive and drastically reduce emissions, but it is necessary to look for instruments that allow us to accelerate in the short and medium term the much-needed decarbonisation of the airline sector.
In this context, SAF represent a proven technology that meets all the safety requirements that the world of aviation requires, the introduction of which will not need massive investments in new aircraft or modifications to our airports. The best alternative for the next decades is undoubtedly the use of SAF, prioritizing those sustainable fuels that are capable of providing greater relative reductions, such as synthetic fuels or electro-fuels. If there is also a strong political will, this technology can be implemented in a fast time throughout Europe and spread to other parts of the world.
The recent regulatory developments proposed within the framework of the Fit for 55 program, and especially the proposed Regulation called ReFuel Aviation, as well as those approved in Spain -such as Law 7/2021 on Climate Change and Energy Transition, or the National Plan Integrated Energy and Climate 2021-2030- constitute a milestone in the development and impulse for the significant use of this type of fuel in Europe and Spain, and undoubtedly represent a mechanism for its effective introduction in the market.
How does SENASA support the sustainability of the aviation sector?
SENASA is a reference for aeronautical environment, with great national and international acknowledgement, whose commitment is based on the conviction that benefits in this area are also a stimulus for innovation, productivity and competitiveness in the aviation sector, and constitute the tool to ensure sustainable growth.
As a result of the assistance provided by SENASA for more than 15 years to the different public administrations, we have a group of professionals specialized in the identification, quantification and mitigation of the different impacts associated with aviation. Regarding the phenomenon of climate change, SENASA provides support in the management and administration of the EU ETS, as well as in the management of the global CORSIA scheme since its effective start in 2018. In the same way, we collaborate with different international environmental groups, such as the Committee of ICAO Environmental Protection or those established at European level in the framework of the European Civil Aviation Conference.
Regarding our collaboration with international organizations, it is worth highlighting the participation of SENASA in the agreement established during the ICAO General Assembly in 2019 with the Central American Corporation for Air Navigation Services (COCESNA) and the Spanish Aviation Safety & Security Agency for the promotion of sustainable aviation. Within the framework of this agreement, collaboration and support actions have been established between the entities with the aim of creating and strengthening capacities in environmental and climate change matters. With regards to sustainable aviation fuels, since 2011, our professionals also participate in various international forums such as the Spanish initiative for the production and consumption of biokerosene for aviation, the coordination of the ITAKA project or the Flightpath project..
Finally, regarding the recent regulatory developments approved in Spain on the use of SAF, SENASA's participation demonstrates the organization's recognition and involvement in promoting sustainable growth in the aeronautical sector. This will undoubtedly aid the achievement of ambitious environmental objectives ratified by Spain, both at European and international level.