Aviation

For an island nation like Malta, that is heavily dependent on air transport, a more sustainable alternative to aviation fuels seems to be key to reaching our greenhouse gas emissions goals, and, in general, becoming more environmentally friendly for the future.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) would certainly put many guilty consciences at ease and help to lower one´s ecological footprint when taking a plane. Currently, aircraft are solely reliant on fossil jet fuel to operate, contributing to disastrous consequences for our planet.

Furthermore, relying on fossil jet fuel has made us dependent on imports from conflictual third countries. SAFs, meaning the many types of advanced biofuels and electro-fuels, have the potential to significantly reduce aircraft emissions. Renewable e-kerosene, a synthetic fuel made of green hydrogen and CO₂, which could possibly be captured from the atmosphere, is the most sustainable SAF. It could hold one of the keys to aviation’s decarbonization. However, this potential is largely untapped as SAFs currently represent only 0.05% of total jet fuel consumption. It seems that e-kerosene production will need to be greatly increased to make a difference.

The ReFuelEU aviation proposal as part of the Fit for 55 package aims to boost the supply and demand for sustainable aviation fuels in the EU to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and enable it to help achieve the EU’s climate targets.

To recap, the Fit for 55 is a package by the European Union is designed to reduce the European Union´s greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030. This very ambitious legislative package relating to the transport sector with proposals for alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR), FuelEU Maritime and ReFuelEU Aviation was announced in July 2021.

Almost a year later on 2nd June 2022 the European transport ministers adopted a common position (´general approach´) on each of the three legislative proposals. Blending mandates, where it is compulsory for all jet fuel supplied to EU airports to have a certain proportion of SAF, are also currently being negotiated in the context of ReFuelEU Aviation. This can be considered an important step toward the implementation of the legislative package enabling the EU to meet its climate objectives. Since the transport sector accounts for more than a quarter of EU emissions the objective is to reduce its emissions by 90%.

Looking at the potential of green aviation fuels they could save us five million tonnes of CO₂ in 2030. There will be approximately 0.16 million tonnes of e-kerosene available in Europe by 2025, produced by 10 companies and 18 European e-kerosene manufacturers located in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway could produce 1.83 million tonnes of e-kerosene in 2030 leading to saving vast amounts of CO₂. However, those growth predictions are highly reliant on favourable political conditions and blending mandates at EU level would need to be set high enough to support market ramp-up.

And, even though the ReFuelEU text includes a sub-target for synthetic aviation fuels, like e-kerosene, to foster e-kerosene production in Europe, the sub-target proposal of 0.7 per cent by 2030 is too low to have an incentivising effect on the market.

To conclude, Europe finds itself standing in front of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the leader in green aviation through its ReFuelEU proposal. Ultimately, as always, the success of the green aviation revolution lies with policymakers, who have to prioritize the right type of sustainable fuels and raise the game on e-kerosene. Dreaming ahead, for Malta green aviation may also bring a welcome boost by attracting more environmentally conscious tourists to the island.

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