Future Aviation Forum

“Saudia Arabia is at the start of the most significant aviation industry reform in the 21st Century. In line with our Vision 2030 Goals we are opening the Kingdom and welcoming the world.” – H.E. Saleh Bin Nasser AlJasser, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Transport.

To coincide with Saudi Arabia’s vision to become a leading regional transport hub, the inaugural #FutureAviationForum connected industry stakeholders from across the globe.

This came at the perfect time for an industry at a crossroads. Global aviation is rebounding from the economic slump caused by the pandemic but faces renewed calls to do more to tackle climate change.

As co-host. I had the opportunity to speak with Willie Walsh, newly Director General of the International Air Transport Association.

Whilst he was confident that “the Airline industry has come together and has committed to achieving Net Zero by 2050”, he stressed that this would come at an enormous cost and would need greater commitment from the financial community.

One recurring point throughout the forum was the discussion around Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF – aka biofuel), batteries and hydrogen as jet fuel.

Willie (and most of the industry) sees the future of aviation fuel in SAF. Growing the plants to make the fuel sustainably is one challenge. The other is cost – at about 2.5 times the cost of jet fuel, this will remain out of the reach of low income countries – for whom aviation connectivity means economic growth.

Willie is cautiously optimistic about the use of batteries and hydrogen on short-haul flights, but is keen to emphasise the energy intensive production and high R&D costs involved.

Airbus is already powering some of its planes with SAF and it’s hydrogen-powered planes would be running test flights by 2026. There’s more work to be done but I was inspired by the drive of the industry.

📷 Picture credit: my wonderful co-host Oli Barrett