Cathay Pacific leads the way to fly greener in Asia

Asia’s first major Corporate Sustainable Aviation Fuel Programme will help both the airline and corporates to achieve their carbon-reduction goals

Earlier this month Cathay Pacific launched a pilot Corporate Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Programme, the first major programme of its type in Asia. The programme provides corporate customers the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint from business travel or airfreight shipments by contributing to the use of SAF, uplifted for the first time from Hong Kong International Airport for Cathay Pacific flights.

This is excellent news for corporate client passengers, forwarders and shippers committed to tackling climate change and reducing their Scope 3 emissions: non-direct emissions which do not involve a business’s primary activity, but may include things such as staff journeys to work and, critically, use of the supply chain.

Increasing the use of SAF is also vital for Cathay Pacific as it continues on its journey, mapped out and reconfirmed by airline trade association IATA in October last year and in sync with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C – to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Scope 1 emissions (those from assets owned and used by a company for their main business activity) are very much to the fore, and fuel is the airline’s biggest item of non-capital expenditure.

New generation aircraft such as the Airbus A321neo offer greater fuel economy, but biofuels are key to the emissions challenge

Cathay Pacific has committed to make SAF 10 per cent of its total fuel use by 2030, and the pilot Corporate SAF Programme is an excellent starting point – as it is for the companies that have signed up so far, which include DHL Global Forwarding and Kintetsu World Express.

‘Climate change is the primary challenge of our generation and for those to come,’ says Director Cargo Tom Owen. ‘As a major network cargo carrier, we are working with our overall logistics supply chain with significant initiatives to tackle it. As an example, Cathay Pacific has been pioneering our industry’s move towards more substantial use of SAF, especially in Asia. We all must play our part and there is a lot more to do.’

SAF is a crucial method for aviation to achieve its emission-reduction targets. While new generation aircraft, like the Airbus A350, have new engine technology which have reduced emissions by 10-20 per cent against older aircraft, there is only so much that can be achieved until new technology alternatives such as electric or hydrogen-fuel cells become viable.

Cathay Pacific is a founder member of the Aviation Climate Taskforce, that is looking at some of these more radical ways to decarbonise aviation. But while small, commuter aircraft on short missions may be introduced in the next decade powered by that new technology, jet fuel will continue to power heavy, long-haul operations for many years to come. So, for now, the main onus falls on SAF, as Jan Toschka, President of Shell Aviation, one of the Programme’s two suppliers along with PetroChina, explains.

‘Meeting net-zero emissions in aviation by 2050 is a challenge but one that the value chain can and must achieve by working together,’ he says. ‘As a fuel supplier, we know we have a critical role to play and have set ourselves the goal of becoming a global leader for SAF, with the ambition of supplying 2 million tonnes of SAF per year by 2025.’

Cathay Pacific’s five-prong roadmap to net zero by 2050

Aircraft: Younger aircraft with next generation engine technology are reducing emissions. The Airbus A350 and A321neo fleets burn around 20% less fuel than the previous aircraft generation
Operational improvements: Initiatives such as taxiing to the runway or the terminal and better routings have helped improve fuel efficiency by 20% since 1998
SAF: As well as the Corporate SAF Programme, Cathay was the first investor in the Fulcrum BioEnergy plant in Nevada, which converts domestic waste into jet fuel
Carbon offset: Cathay Pacific set up its Fly Greener carbon-offset programme, enabling passengers to offset flights by supporting worthwhile community projects that reduce or prevent emissions
New technology: Cathay is a founding member of the Aviation Climate Taskforce, which will link new and emerging technologies such as synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells

There is a ready market for this, because so many global forwarders and their shipper clients need to meet their own carbon reduction targets. The purpose of the programme is to stimulate the manufacturing and supply of SAF, particularly in Asia, and greater demand should stimulate supply, bringing the added benefit of a cost reduction in the SAF alternatives as compared to standard jet fuel.

‘SAF is currently one of the key levers to avoid fossil fuels and thus prevent additional CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere,’ says Steffen Treiber, SVP Head of Airfreight Asia Pacific at DHL Global Forwarding, one of the programme’s founder members. ‘As the SAF supply is still limited to a few airports today, we believe that Cathay Pacific’s SAF Programme is an important signal to the market and will help to build a market for sustainable fuels in Asia.’

It’s a sentiment shared by fellow Programme member Kintetsu World Express (KWE). Now in its fifth decade of partnership with Cathay Pacific Cargo, the company believes that the Programme can reduce its Scope 3 carbon footprint by booking cargo on Cathay Pacific flights worldwide, making the airline an effective low-carbon option for airfreight. ‘Climate change waits for no one,’ says Nobutoshi Torii, President and CEO of KWE.

The SAF used for the Programme’s launch is derived from used cooking oil and animal fat waste, which follows IATA’s stricture that SAF feedstock should not ‘compete with food crops or water supplies, nor contribute to forest degradation’. In this way, SAF has the potential to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 100 per cent, depending on the technology used.

The SAF will go through the normal aviation-fuelling infrastructure, mixing with the existing fossil-based fuel at the airport. The Programme will issue a verified emissions-reduction certificate and proof of sustainability to Programme members when they purchase SAF, to help account for their Scope 3 carbon emissions reductions.

‘The Corporate SAF Programme is an important step for us to engage other like-minded organisations, and a first step in sending an important demand signal to the SAF supply chain that there is firm interest in the region, not only from airlines, but across the aviation value-chain,’ concludes Cathay Pacific Director Cargo Tom Owen.

For more information on the Corporate SAF Programme, and how to sign up, click here.

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