American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are calling for more support from government and the energy industry to develop and produce sustainable aviation fuels at scale to meet carbon emission reduction goals.
Sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF for short, “is a lot more theoretical than it is real” today, American Airlines Chief Sustainability Officer Jill Blickstein said at the U.S. Travel Association’s Future of Travel Mobility conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
Blickstein referred to the numerous SAF supply agreements that American and other airlines have signed but have yet to begin producing the low-emission fuels in significant quantities. That limited production is a problem given the airline industry’s plans to significantly ramp up SAF usage in their drive to produce net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
IATA estimates that 65% of global airline emission reductions will come from the adoption of SAF.
JetBlue aims to use 10 million gallons of SAF annually in just seven years, or by 2030. That represents a more than 14-fold increase over the airline’s sustainable fuel usage last year of roughly 700,000 gallons.
Getting from 700,000 gallons to 10 million is the problem given current levels of support, JetBlue President and Chief Operating Officer Joanna Geraghty said at the event. The airline aims to be net-zero by 2040.
The Biden Administration included the first-ever U.S. SAF incentives in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Law. The tax benefits flow to the companies that produce and blend the fuels, rather than the airlines themselves, in an effort to jumpstart U.S. production.
The U.S. produced 15.8 million gallons of SAF last year, according to Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Transportation Statistics data. That was a three-fold increase from 2021 production levels but still far short of the Biden administration’s goal for the U.S. to produce 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030.
The Inflation Reduction Law incentives are not enough to scale SAF production and bring prices down, Geraghty said. SAF typically costs 4-5 times a gallon of jet fuel. She did not specify exactly what JetBlue wants the government and energy industry to do.
Europe has taken a different track than the U.S. on SAF. The European Union has mandated use of the low-emission fuels beginning in 2025 when they must make up 2% of all aviation fuel in the bloc. The mandate steps up to 70% of all aviation fuel in the EU by the middle of the century.
European airlines have, like their U.S. counterparts, complained about the EU’s approach to SAF. Their issue is the lack of any financial incentives, tax or otherwise, to jump-start the industry.
Not everyone believes it is the responsibility of government, or the energy industry, to scale SAF production. Emirates President Tim Clark said in June that the global airline industry needs to “do better” than wait for governments and other industries to fund the decarbonization of aviation. He highlighted Emirates’ $200 million investment in SAF production and called on other airlines to do the same.
American, JetBlue, Qantas Airways, United Airlines, and others have either invested or committed to invest in SAF production.