LONDON – In the EUROCONTROL Aviation StraightTalk podcast, easyJet’s CEO Johan Lundgren spoke about sustainability in the industry, especially as we begin to exit the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said in the interview that he believes “sustainability will become a competitive advantage” in the market, especially to customer perception currently on climate change (EUROCONTROL, 2021).
Lundgren also set out what could be the basis of a sustainability-based strategy when looking at Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) and hydrogen-powered aircraft like what we are seeing with the Airbus ZEROe program.
This piece will expand more onto what Lundgren said in that interview as well as whether such a proposed strategy will work, especially with continued pressure between governments to meet climate targets occurring from now, all the way up to 2050.
easyJet’s Presence in Sustainability
easyJet has been leading the way in sustainability in the last few years, trying and adopting different methods when it comes to offering a better path to carbon neutral offsetting.
As the airline puts it on its website, it aims to offset its carbon footprint “by investing in projects that include the planting of trees or protecting against deforestation and renewable energies” (easyJet, 2021).
Such other elements in its approach to sustainability include:
- Reducing its carbon emissions by a third since 2000.
- The introduction of the Airbus A320neo in the fleet from 2017 onwards, including a delivery of an A321neo by 2019.
- Aiming to fill flights up as much as possible. For example, the airline’s load factor in 2019 was 92.9%
- Flying point-to-point routes in order to save fuel.
- Using only one engine whilst in the taxi phase of flight when on the ground.
- The introduction of lightweight Ricardo seats to decrease fuel and weight consumption.
The airline has also placed all its cards on the table when it comes to the next generation of aircraft, both teaming up with Wright Electric to develop an all-electric plane as well as teaming up with Airbus on the ZEROe program (ibid).
So, as far as sustainability goes, especially under the reigns of Johan Lundgren, easyJet is all-in on the stakes when it comes to helping the environment.
SAFs for Long-Haul, Hydrogen Power for Short-Haul
In the interview hosted by EUROCONTROL, Lundgren went into more detail about how the different innovative and sustainable future platforms would be hosted within easyJet.
He mentioned that the use of hydrogen and electric-powered aircraft, this should be solely based on short-haul operations only. This would make sense, especially with Airbus stating that the ZEROe aircraft would reach a range of 1,000 nautical miles for its turboprops and 2,000 for its turbofan variants (Airbus, 2020).
Lundgren mentioned however that because of such limitations in range for the long-haul side, that the work already being done on Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) should be focused on for the long haul side of air travel.
SAF has been trialled on delivery flights currently and a few weeks ago, the University of Manchester confirmed that more studies are taking place with the likes of Airbus to trial such SAFs on its test bed Airbus A350 aircraft (University of Manchester, 2021).
On that basis, it can be assumed that the argument for SAFs on long-haul is especially driven by latest innovations on the Airbus side with the A321XLR and A350-900ULR aircraft which are set to regenerate the way the long-haul market works over the next decade.
The same can be assigned across the pond with Boeing as it ponders development of its supposed NMA (New Mid-Size Airplane). With a long-haul hydrogen/electric aircraft not really appearing to be on the agenda, it will pave the way for SAFs to thrive.
What about rail in Europe?
There was also a discussion about whether rail should be better utilised instead of domestic flying, of which some countries across Europe have tried to push, such as France.
Lundgren argues that the rail networks in Europe cannot occupy the level of practical space that domestic and intra-European flights offer, which means that trying to build such an extensive network would emit more carbon emissions in building and development.
This also applied to whether a specific tax should be placed on airfares for domestic flights, which has been seen in the likes of Austria where they are trying to encourage the public in the country to travel by rail or alternative means instead (Reuters, 2020).
Therefore, the use of hydrogen or electric-based aircraft could help contribute towards better climate success as international governments aim to be carbon neutral by 2050.
When discussed in an AviationSource roundtable about UK Air Passenger Duty Tax, it was suggested by panellists that such taxes shouldn’t be applied onto flights which are showing ways of being sustainable, even in the future if that includes the utilisation of the ZEROe program too.
Is Such a Strategy The Basis for Sustainable Success?
It appears that the approach Lundgren has taken when it comes to sustainable practices in aviation could form the basis of business models going into the future, especially as the debate surrounding climate change is intensifying by the day.
The COVID-19 pandemic of course, as Lundgren said, gives the industry an opportunity to look at what the next solution is when it comes to benefitting the industry but also the environment it hosts itself in.
Such a strategy is only going to be successful if other airlines adopt this position going forward. The industry needs to move forward and pledge towards such climate support, so then the likes of Airbus and other manufacturers can secure enough orders to ensure positive movements towards carbon offsetting.
Whilst SAFs won’t really affect easyJet that much, the focus towards the likes of ZEROe and Wright Electric could pave the way for further sales down the line.
On top of this, over in the United States, the eVTOL market is providing the same level of perspective as well. But only if it is being done correctly. Such an assumption can be replicated onto the airline industry, especially when it comes to the future:
“In conducting master planning and modeling for any location, we must look at least 30 years into the future and plan for change, expansion, and a municipality’s integration of the unknown” (Alexander, 2020).
What is being argued here is that the infrastructure has got to be in place, and once it has been established, it has to survive the long-term and even further forward into the future. And that is what Lundgren is banking on.
It remains clear that even still, the look towards sustainability is still in its early days. But as Lundgren states, it is not about becoming carbon neutral “by 2050, or 2040, or 2030, but now” (EUROCONTROL, 2021).
As mentioned in a few of these articles and even in our book that we published on launch day, the structure of aviation is one that is obese and asthmatic. It takes a lot of gears to grind before the changes are made, and in most cases, it may be too late by the time things change for the better.
So the question is, can enough companies get involved and help the industry speed this process up, before it becomes too late? Only time will tell for this factor.
- EUROCONTROL (2021), Aviation StraightTalk Live with easyJet CEO, Johan Lundgren, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSelJYFugvE&ab_channel=EUROCONTROL [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]
- easyJet (2021), Carbon offsetting, https://www.easyjet.com/en/sustainability [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]
- Airbus (2020), Airbus reveals new zero-emission concept aircraft, https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2020/09/airbus-reveals-new-zeroemission-concept-aircraft.html [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]
- University of Manchester (2021), First in-flight 100% sustainable aviation fuel emissions study on takes off on commercial passenger jet, https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/first-in-flight-100-sustainable-aviation-fuel-emissions-study-on-takes-off-on-commercial-passenger-jet/ [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]
- Reuters (2020), Austrian government to raise flight tax, start income tax cuts next year, https://www.reuters.com/article/austria-politics/austrian-government-to-raise-flight-tax-start-income-tax-cuts-next-year-idUSL8N29Z4UK [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]
- Alexander, R. (2020), Answering the question: Do eVTOL air taxis have a place in sustainable cities?, eVTOL, https://evtol.com/features/evtol-air-taxis-sustainable-cities-response/ [Last Accessed 22nd March 2021]