Promising developments in sustainable aviation in 2020

To say that aviation is facing dire new challenges would be the understatement of the year. In fact, the entire travel industry not just in the UK but in the entire world is still struggling to adjust to the effects of the global health crisis. Given the new limitations and challenges imposed on the aviation sector, it’s imperative now more than ever for true sustainability to be pursued. Thankfully, this year, there have been some very promising developments in the field of sustainable aviation.

Sustainable fuel

Some of the planet’s busiest airways could soon run solely on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is now being directly supplied with a SAF pipeline by Neste. As the world’s largest SAF producer, Neste’s partnership with SFO allows it to directly supply American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Alaska Airlines with safe and efficient aviation fuel sourced from waste and raw material residue. “Even in these difficult circumstances, setting up our airline to operate more sustainably is important to us, our team members and our customers,” says American Airlines CEO David Seymour.

Meanwhile, in Europe, six Danish companies headed by shipping giant Maersk have formed a partnership for developing emission-free green hydrogen. In a coalition comprised of some of the biggest companies in the Danish economy, Maersk is spearheading the construction and development of an offshore wind-powered hydrogen facility to fuel not just airplanes, but also trucks, ships, and other heavy industrial vehicles. It’s scheduled for completion in 2023 and will be running at full capacity (250,000 tonnes of fuel/year) by 2030.

Although these are certainly huge steps in the right direction, one major consideration in the widespread use of SAF is the potential increase in ticket pricing. In a study by the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, researchers found that travellers would be willing to pay for ticket price increases if it meant reducing greenhouse gases – but only up to 15%. Further increases could lead to lower airline revenue, which brings us to our next point.

Digitised and automated systems

The digital transformation of payments, processes, services, and systems also plays a huge role in developing more sustainable aviation practices. In an overview of the state of modern airline ecommerce, FIS Global details how digitising payment options opens the door for omnichannel solutions and making transactions using any device. For many companies in the aviation sector, this means meeting customer expectations across different transaction channels and overall greater productivity. Apart from greater customer convenience and potentially offsetting the higher costs of using SAF, digitised and automated airline systems can also lead to more streamlined processes, reduced errors, and responsible consumption.

Such are the goals of Malaysian airline conglomerate AirAsia, which has recently implemented a robotic process automation (RPA) upgrade across its services in different countries. “Business process automation can be done easily with the right tools in place,” suggests AirAsia Chief Transformation Officer Azli Mohamed in a press release. This RPA upgrade includes contactless check-in processes for travellers using the AirAsia app, as well as artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled document processing and systems analytics.

Apart from implementing digitised payment and service processes, AirAsia will be using the resulting data to further reduce costs, increase productivity, and streamline processes. Digital payment data can reveal a lot about consumer behaviour, particularly in large airline systems. As a report by the World Economic Forum shows, consumer payment data can reveal key insights into consumer behaviour vis-a-vis the environmental impact of air travel. These insights can be used by airlines to address key customer concerns, reduce fuel use, and help sway consumer behaviour towards responsible consumption. And as process digitisation and automation continue to become widespread across the travel industry, the road to sustainability is paved with even more data-driven and actionable insights.

While these are not the sole developments in the field of sustainable aviation this year, SAF and systems automation are two of the most crucial elements in establishing a truly green global travel economy. And there is no doubt that we should expect more developments in these particular fields in the near future.

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