Air travel is undergoing a period of expansion following a turbulent three-year period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent findings from a report by BCD Travel, a leading travel management company based in the Netherlands, indicate that the industry is set up for a strong recovery with an emphasis on sustainability. The report is the first installment of a two-part series on the future of air travel.
Both environmental and financial sustainability are key factors in shaping the industry’s trajectory according to the survey among global travel managers conducted by BCD, which revealed that nearly two-thirds of them consider environmentally sustainable travel to be of primary importance. In response to the growing demands of consumers, governments, and regulators for greener air travel options, airlines have devised plans aimed at achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
One of the biggest areas of focus is the adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). This entails using renewable fuels or fuels derived from waste sources that meet specific sustainability criteria. Although the aviation industry currently permits flights with up to 50% blended SAF, widespread implementation of this fuel type is still a long way away. In 2020, SAF accounted for less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption. Airlines have committed to increasing their usage of SAF in the future, and a growing number of corporate travel programs are exploring the integration of SAF into their operations.
While SAF offers immediate relief and enables the aviation industry to reduce its environmental impact, the availability and costs present challenges, so airlines are exploring alternative options, such as hybrid-electric, fully electric, and hydrogen-powered flights. Although these technologies are still a few years away from widespread implementation, they could potentially reduce emissions significantly and eventually enable emission-free flights.
Rail travel is also emerging as a vital component of sustainable transportation, particularly for shorter trips. Many prominent markets have already embraced high-speed, electric-powered rail, offering a greener and sometimes faster alternative to air travel for short journeys. Combining air and rail travel presents another avenue for reducing the carbon footprint of travel. Delta Air Lines, for instance, has introduced its Air + Rail train connection program in Europe, facilitating onward train connections from airport stations. The second installment of the future of air travel report is due to come out later in 2023.