'The Fight for a Net-Zero Aviation' - Ardian's take on aviation decarbonization


Responsible finance

'The Fight for a Net-Zero Aviation' - Ardian's take on aviation decarbonization

  • 21 June 2023

  • Real Assets

  • Infrastructure, Sustainability

Reading time: 6 minutes

    To globally curb carbon emissions and meet Paris Agreement goals, the aviation industry ecosystem must quickly take action.

    On November 9th, 2022, Ardian released ‘The Fight for a Net-Zero Aviation’ study during its third annual conference on The Augmented Infrastructure, tackling the question of the aviation decarbonization. What key learnings can we draw from both the study and the conference?

    ‘Augmented’ airports are the key catalysts for industry decarbonization.

    ‘Augmented’ airports are the key catalysts for industry decarbonization.

    Airports are the beating heart of the aviation sector where all stakeholders meet: airlines, passengers, aircraft manufacturers, energy suppliers, air traffic controllers and ground handling companies. Relying on their cornerstone position in the air transport industry ecosystem, airports have the ability and the duty to enable and drive the industry’s transition toward a sustainable growth for air transport.

    Albeit airports are not directly responsible for 95% of their carbon emissions, those are still categorized as scope 3 emissions according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards. Therefore, by effectively managing their scope 3 emissions, by using data science tools and leveraging on operational data, airports can be catalysts in the reduction of the aviation global carbon footprint.

    As a world-leading firm in airports infrastructure investment, Ardian believes that it is part of its duty to engage in responsible investments. Having in mind their central position in the value chain, the study opts for an airport-centric perspective to discuss the nuts and bolts of the decarbonization of aviation, leveraging Ardian’s Augmented Infrastructure framework designed in 2018.

    We believe it is our responsibility as long-term investors and shareholders of airports to ensure their resilience and transition to drive the sustainable aviation of tomorrow.

    Mathias Burghardt, Head of Infrastructure and Member of the Executive Committee, Ardian

    In this regard, Ardian brought together more than 400 airports, industrials, start-ups, financials, and academics leaders of the sector, some of whom contributed to the study, during a conference to present their initiatives and vision.

    • 400

      airports, industrials, start-ups, financials, and academics leaders of the sector are brought together by Ardian

    The challenge: action needs to be taken by the air transport ecosystem to enable a net-zero aviation.

    The challenge: action needs to be taken by the air transport ecosystem to enable a net-zero aviation.

    According to IATA (International Air Transport Association), air traffic levels will more than double from now to 2050, reaching 10 billion passengers. Although aviation accounts for about 3% of global carbon emissions today and CO2 emissions per passenger have been decreasing over the last fifteen years, sector’s emissions are expected to increase significantly if nothing is done to reduce them. If the air transport industry was the only one making no effort to implement an efficient sustainability roadmap to reach the 2°C target of the Paris Agreement, aviation carbon emissions could soar up to 22% of global emissions in 2050.

    • 3 %

      of global carbon emissions come from aviation as of today

    • 22 %

      of global carbon emissions will come from aviation by 2050 if no efficient sustainability roadmap is implemented

    That being the case, sobriety has emerged as a possible solution, coming from both passengers and public authorities. While such perspective is possible for regions with alternative transport infrastructure, in others with geographical constraints and where air traffic is expected to increase substantially in the coming years, sobriety might be more challenging.

    One should also have in mind the crucial economic and social impact of aviation. In France, it is responsible for one million jobs, of which 30% are highly skilled jobs. It is estimated that it will take about 1.5 trillion euros of investments by 2050 to achieve the transition towards a decarbonized air transport industry ecosystem.

    Hence, Ardian believes in a third approach that combines sobriety with innovation and must be put at the service of decarbonizing the aviation industry.

    The action plan: a combination of intermodal shifts and investments in aircraft technology and alternative fuels.

    The action plan: a combination of intermodal shifts and investments in aircraft technology and alternative fuels.

    Following Ardian’s expertise and convictions, aviation’s license to operate depends on a transition path to net-zero that will come through the simultaneous activation of multiple levers.

    The first and most significant lever is to deploy sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) on a large scale. These alternative fuels can reduce the lifecycle carbon emission by 70% compared to traditional fuels, and more importantly, they represent the only technical option to decarbonize long-haul flights. To do so, massive infrastructure investments as well as the commitment of industrial actors are required to scale the SAF supply chain and meet the demand. This last point means to increase today’s production by more than 3,000 times by 2050.

    The second lever for decarbonization relies both on the generalization of the most efficient solutions already available and on the development of breakthrough technologies.

    These solutions are expected to account for one-third of the sector’s decarbonization by 2050. It includes the hydrogen aircraft which is a very promising technology in the long-term and whose combustion carbon footprint is neutral. Making it a reality is the first challenge on which Airbus is working on, with the objective to bring to market the world's first hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035. It also depends on the amounts invested in the hydrogen industry to build this new aircraft technology, as well as in the needed supply chain and new infrastructures to be integrated within airport facilities.

    Then, other technological solutions exist that can already be deployed at the airports to improve the current efficiency of operations and infrastructure. Ardian, together with its partners and portfolio companies, is acting on the airport operations optimization like the electrification of ground vehicles, which could lay the groundwork for a low-carbon future of aircraft handling activities.

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    Finally, in a new paradigm where all these different solutions must be accompanied by a transition from traditional infrastructures to augmented ones, airports will pave the way for new experiences and opportunities.

    Ardian believes that airports’ future is to become multimodal transport and renewable energy hubs, while remaining key players in the local economic development.

    Through their position at the core of the whole aviation value chain, airports have the power and the duty to drive the sector’s transition. Achieving net-zero is the greatest challenge faced by the air transport. The only way to succeed is therefore to agree on a globally coordinated action plan involving all the industry stakeholders. Airports, institutional and industry players will need to strengthen their collaboration to enable the transition of the sector.