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Sustainable Aviation Fuels: preparing for take-off…

  • Global
  • ESG
  • Transport - Aviation


Despite the unprecedented challenges and disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is positive to see that the European aviation industry remains committed to tackling global climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s “Clean Skies for Tomorrow” (“CST”) initiative is supported by key public and private players within the aviation value chain who share the ultimate goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions within the aviation sector by 2050.

In October 2020, the CST coalition published a Joint Policy Proposal setting out a strategy for accelerating the transition to climate neutrality in the European aviation industry. A key focus of this strategy was increasing the uptake of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (“SAF”).

The CST coalition has now published a further report, Guidelines for a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Blending Mandate in Europe”. The detailed report identifies the main challenges in driving up the demand and the production of SAF, which includes:

  • protecting airlines against any competitive distortion within the market during the transition to SAF;
  • supporting fuel providers by facilitating the financing of SAF plants;
  • ensuring that SAF pathways with lower technology readiness reach commercial-scale production, with public support to de-risk the first commercialisation efforts;
  • implementing policies to drive higher production/collection of sustainable biomass, to meet the growing demand for SAF and to prevent any feedstock availability issues; and
  • optimising SAF production capacity for jet fuel.

The overarching view of the industry lead CST coalition is that a sustainable aviation fuel mandate should be implemented in Europe in order to boost SAF supply and demand. It is hoped that the introduction of the blending mandate should provide certainty of future demand for SAF and therefore encourage investment within the supply chain. The CST members identified a number of options for the design of the SAF blending mandate, including:

  • an obligation on fuel suppliers in Europe;
  • aiming for a global SAF blending mandate solution whilst implementing a uniform regional approach during the transitional stages with the objective of avoiding competitive distortion and tankering risks from different national mandates;
  • implementing the mandate via a volumetric target or via a greenhouse gas intensity reduction target; and/or
  • sub-targets for novel technological pathways with lower technical readiness levels to support the rapid deployment and to accelerate the costs reduction of SAF.
Importantly, the report recognises that in addition to an SAF mandate, accompanying measures are required such as:

(i) facilitating public financial support to de-risk private investment into the supply chain and to bridge the cost differential between SAF and conventional jet fuel;

(ii) securing preferential access to sustainable sources of biomass for aviation and ensuring that renewable fuels capacity is optimised for SAF production; and

(iii) developing financial support mechanisms for airlines and airports to bridge the costs differential between SAF and conventional jet fuel and to mitigate the risks of competitive distortion and fuel tankering.

The report itself provides a detailed view as to how SAF production can be ramped up in Europe, sets out recommendations for the design of a SAF fuel blending mandate and identifies important considerations for overcoming any competitive distortions that may arise for airlines and airports.

Going forward it will be interesting to see how as the Aviation sector begins to recover, the design of the SAF mandate develops and if the global aviation market will follow this initiative or oppose the implementation of a SAF mandate on a global scale. Watch this space.