Wizz Air’s UK chief has warned it will be a “slow process” to make sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) affordable, tempering expectations for the substance that has become a key pillar of the sector’s route to decarbonise.
Marion Geoffroy told City A.M. “it’s going to be a slow process because of course, we need to have the fuel, the SAF, available and at a cost, which… it was until recently, seven times more expensive than fossil fuels. We cannot afford that.”
Geoffroy said the biofuel, which is made from food waste such as cooking oil and plants, was “getting cheaper as production increases” and ahead of looming mandates from the EU and UK.
But she warned “we need to have production available at affordable costs and that’s going to take a long time until we get to new technologies.”
Geoffroy’s comments echo quiet concerns in the sector over the cost and difficulty of decarbonising aviation – one of the most polluting industries in the world.
Airlines are banking on SAF as central to hitting net-zero targets but it currently accounts for around one per cent of the global fleet’s fuel consumption.
Boeing’s chief executive Dave Calhoun, warned in May that climate-friendly biofuels would never “achieve the price of Jet A“.
At German airline Lufthansa’s annual general meeting that same month, boss Carsten Spohr said supplies of the “expensive fuel” were far too small, with production “getting into gear slowly”.
According to a report from Bain and Co, SAF will remain up to four times higher than the cost of jet fuel until 2050.
Other technologies such as hydrogen are further away. “I don’t believe we’ll see a hydrogen aircraft carrying 239 passengers, which is the density of our largest aircraft at the moment, flying between 2040-45,” Geoffroy said.
She believes airlines have been overstating the importance of SAF at the expense of engineering tweaks and route changes, which can greatly reduce a plane’s emission output.
Flying only direct routes with no connecting flights, for example, can slash a carrier’s emissions.
Prioritising younger, more modern fleets and higher class engines would “contribute the most to CO2 levels,” Geoffroy argued.
“This is why some airlines put more emphasis on SAF and partnership with manufacturers on hydrogen and new technologies because they don’t have much to say about their fleet and we have a lot to say about our fleet.”