Last week I attended the Sustainable Skies World Summit in Farnborough where SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel), hydrogen propulsion and new technology led the conversation.

The annual event was well attended by industry experts and leaders from around the globe all with one common goal – achieving Net Zero by 2050. Over 1,500 people registered for the event, comprised of representatives across government, regulators, airlines, OEMs, investors and members coming together to discuss and showcase the technology and innovation required to get us there.

Making significant steps to be more sustainable, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were among the airlines at the Summit, alongside leaders from Boeing and Airbus. Taking part in a C-Suite panel, CEOs of both airlines articulated their individual responsibilities and shared vision to tackle decarbonising aviation and, although competitors, it was inspiring to hear how their priorities align.

What stood out most was the collective agreement that while game-changing technology like hydrogen and electric aircraft are (and should be) on the horizon, solutions like SAF, airspace efficiencies and modernising aircraft fleet will see the industry make progress long before.

It’s through our commitment to airspace modernisation that projects such as West, our Operational Service Enhancements Project (OSEP) and the North Atlantic track structure removal enable us to continue to make progress. With major network changes on the horizon across the Scottish, London and Manchester TMAs and many airports ramping up their airspace modernisation plans to tie into this, we have a significant role to play in continuing to make net zero a reality.

There is a clear ongoing commitment to achieving Net Zero aviation emissions by 2050 but there are complex and important challenges that need to be overcome at pace.

NATS is a founding member of the Sustainable Aviation coalition, which released its One Year On report at the Summit. This is a follow up progress report mapping the aviation industry’s developments since the release of the net zero carbon roadmap last year and shows how NATS has taken a leading role in driving forward the delivery of more efficient flying.

The industry has recovered to almost pre-covid levels of activity, whilst continuing to reduce its carbon output, but the report outlines four key initiatives we will need in order to succeed – and the first is to fly ever more efficient planes through modernised airspace. The Airspace Modernisation Strategy is a great step forward in this space and deployments like West, delivering annual savings of over 12,000 tonnes of CO2 set the template for the rest of the UK’s airspace to follow.

Evidently there is no one solution to removing carbon from air travel, so it is hugely important to see a broad spectrum of industry come together and lean in to debate in this way to tackle its net zero commitment.

While it’s promising to see the progress being made, I hope the buzz created by the Summit serves as another powerful incentive for all areas of the industry to accelerate towards our ambitious sustainability goals. Aviation has always faced challenges, and it has always risen to them. The sector has a credible and honest path ahead to net zero and I’m optimistic that with continued commitment, acceleration and transparency we will get there.

Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, summed it up well at the event in Farnborough last week:

“We want to make sure that we can get the benefits of mobility, the benefits of travel, grow aviation and grow the economy – but doing it in a way that protects the environment. The only way we can do that is by embracing the sort of technology that we see at this event.

“That is how we are going to deliver a successful future for this industry and that is what we all, working together, can achieve.”


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