Assessing how far the sector has come in turning sustainable aviation from a buzz word into reality

Valencia, 24-25 October 2023 — The 12th ECAC/EU Dialogue with the air transport industry was hosted in Valencia by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda of Spain in the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The event saw engagement between the 140 participants representing regulators and policymakers from ECAC Member States and the industry and broader stakeholders from outside the aviation sector, under the theme, “Flying sustainably — from buzz to reality”.

Through panel discussions, presentations and dynamic question and answer conversations with the audience and moderators, representatives discussed the main areas where progress in implementing sustainable initiatives has been made and the areas where more concerted efforts are needed.

The event was opened with keynote speeches from David Benito (DGCA Spain), Alessio Quaranta (President of ECAC) and Filip Cornelis (Director Aviation, European Commission). All three speakers acknowledged the great challenges facing the aviation sector on its road to sustainability, but also spoke of the many opportunities there would be to build a resilient and innovative future for the sector.

Attendees at the Dialogue welcomed the choice of social sustainability for the first session of the event. Panellists supported this stating that whilst environmental and business needs were already well recognised, the social needs of all individuals working within the sector were sometimes slow to be acted upon. Positive examples were given on European frameworks for workers’ rights and to promote diversity and inclusion in aviation, but more was felt to be needed when it came to addressing skills shortages and ensuring the aviation sector was seen as an attractive workplace. Panellists acknowledged that significant “investment is needed” to achieve social sustainability as a whole but that some things can be improved by effective engagement.

The second session introduced a focus on environmental sustainability with an agreement from participants that progress had been made at optimising air traffic operations to reduce emissions and increase efficiency, in developing new, cleaner and greener technologies and fuels, including increasing the production and supply of SAF. The conversation discussed carbon capture as part of the “toolbox” of technologies for reducing the sector’s overall emissions. Again it was felt that financial investment, notably in new technologies, capacity building and private-public partnership, would be needed to ensure the sector’s ambitious environmental sustainability goals can be met.

Representatives from the financial and investment sector and industry in the third and final session of the Dialogue shared their experiences in investing in sustainable aviation through infrastructure projects, the evolving wet leasing market for newer aircraft, and investment in production capacity for sustainable aviation fuels. It was highlighted that the correct strategies for investment were crucial for both short- and long-term growth. At present, there remain difficult questions in terms of how to reach the volumes of investment that will be needed in the aviation sector, making it of importance to all stakeholders to play their part in reducing regulatory and business uncertainty in the market.

In his summary remarks, Mr Quaranta concluded that the discussions of the past two days had emphasised the multifaceted investment needed by the aviation sector over the coming years – and possibly decades – to achieve its ambitious sustainability targets and maintain a high degree of excellence for the air transport sector. He described “investments in people, technologies and financial initiatives” as crucial to achieving these end goals.

Mr Cornelis underlined the dependency of the aviation sector’s future success and sustainability on external factors: for example, the need for the transformation of the energy sector and its ability to meet cross-sector demand for renewables. He also recognised that the outcome of the debates held during the Dialogue showed that when it came to sustainability “there could not be a trade-off on the three dimensions” that had been drawn out across its different sessions: balanced progress was needed in terms of social, environmental and economic sustainability.