Report: Sustainability and the future of air travel

The aviation industry is emerging from a rough couple of years with a focus on stability and sustainability. “Air Travel – A Sustainable Future,” a new paper from BCD Travel, maps how the industry should move forward in delivering purposeful services that maximize value (for airlines and travelers), while also minimizing impact on our world.

The future of air travel relies on sustainability, BCD report says

This report is the first in a two-part series analyzing sustainability efforts in air travel. It also considers alternatives and what this could mean for travel programs and business travelers. Keep reading for key takeaways.

Airlines know they can’t just wait on sustainable fuels

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), renewable fuels or fuels made from waste that meet certain sustainability criteria, emerged a few years back as a potential solution for reducing air travel’s carbon footprint. SAF’s actual success is debatable. It accounted for less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption in 2020. Many airlines have made investments, and aircraft are currently allowed to fly with up to 50 percent blended SAF, but production will likely fall far short of future fuel needs. Price is also an issue. SAF can cost two to eight times more than crude oil-based jet fuel. Airlines say they are committed to using SAF more, but full adoption is still a long way off.

Operational changes are also underway. Airlines rely on efficient flight descents, single engine taxiing, advance weather warnings, engine washing, and fleet renewal for help.

“Sustainable business travel goes hand in hand with sustainable aviation. However, addressing the carbon emissions generated by aviation, particularly in light of the sector’s forecast growth, remains one of the greatest challenges in the quest for net-zero,” said Olivia Ruggles-Brise, vice president of Sustainability at BCD. “In the meantime, however, each business traveler can play a part in the future sustainability of aviation. We can all critically evaluate the need for each flight taken and look for sustainable options such as flying on new aircraft, selecting direct routes or traveling in the economy cabin.”

BCD was the first travel management company to sign an SAF agreement with Delta Air Lines to reduce emissions from travel by BCD employees. BCD customers are reviewing SAF as part of their own business travel program. A still small but growing number of companies have committed to using SAF.

All aboard the alternative: rail travel

Rail has a role to play as a sustainable alternative to flying. Its green credentials are clear: A Eurostar passenger traveling from London to Paris will use 93% less CO2 than flying. For shorter trips, rail often makes the most sense. Several large markets already have high-speed electric-powered rail, which offers a greener and sometimes faster way to travel between city centers compared to air travel. Airlines have taken note, and some already connect passengers to train services for the final leg of their journey. Travel managers, however, have yet to fully embrace it.

Download the report for more insights. BCD’s second Future of Air Travel report is set to be published later in 2023.

The future of air travel: A need for balance

Mike Eggleton, BCD Travel’s Director for Research and Intelligence, talks about the future of air travel. He emphasizes the need for balance between environmental and financial sustainability and takes a closer look at sustainable aviation fuel, new types of power, and rail travel.

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