Air transport is a thorn in the side of efforts for a green future and sustainability. The EU regulation will therefore force airlines to gradually green their fuels and add an ecological component to them. This will lead to nothing other than an increase in the price of aviation fuel and, subsequently, less affordability of tickets, as well as a threat to the competitiveness of low-cost companies in particular.
According to the European regulation, European airlines must gradually switch to greener fuels. The kerosene used so far is too “dirty”. Already from 2025, all fuel must contain at least two percent of so-called sustainable aviation fuel (SAF – sustainable aviation fuel) and from 2030 even minimum proportions of synthetic fuels. From 2035, they will have to make up at least 20 percent, and by 205 the share of the green component must increase to 70 percent.
Flights account for more than ten percent of total transport emissions, which is why the EU considers increasing the ecological component necessary as part of its climate policy. The obligation will fall on both cargo flights and regular flights carrying passengers. According to the regulation, the member states must ensure the collection of “fines” and direct the revenues obtained from them to support research and innovation in the field of sustainable fuels.
According to the EU Aviation Safety Agency, sustainable aviation fuels can be produced from, for example, municipal solid waste, cellulosic waste, table oil, plants such as algae or grass, but also electricity and hydrogen.
However, it is the hydrogen drive that is expensive and more problematic for on-board storage. In addition, it will take years to develop the planes and build the infrastructure for them, such as refueling facilities at airports. While electric propulsion is unthinkable for commercial aircraft, the addition of an electric motor powered by a hydrogen fuel cell could at least initially provide the power needed for takeoff and landing. European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has already announced plans to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft, which could be in operation by 2035.
The fact that the production of synthetic fuels is highly energy-intensive, according to critics, calls into question the effort for a more ecological approach. However, the most important thing for ordinary citizens of the member states is that decarbonisation will raise the prices of air tickets. “SAF will cause a significant increase in costs for airlines and airports, which will most likely be passed on to passengers. There is a threat of a substantial increase in the price of air transport, which may become hardly affordable for some groups of the population,” Tomáš Kočař, an expert on European and aviation law from the law firm KPMG Legal, told the editors.
According to earlier estimates by S&P Global Platts, aviation fuel taxation could double the price of low-cost airline tickets in the coming years.
And low-cost airlines also face the risk that efforts to decarbonize will cause a reduction in flights from smaller airports. “In fact, lower purchasing and negotiating power can contribute to a higher price of SAF at these airports, and therefore also to the economic disadvantage of operating flights from these locations. This can subsequently lead to a reduction in the mobility of citizens and the connectivity of individual regions,” says Kočař, adding that Czech regional airports already have a problem with congestion.
The new measures may also affect the competitiveness of European airlines due to their disadvantage. “The obligation of EU aircraft operators to refuel at least 90 percent of the annual amount of fuel at an airport in the EU can significantly disadvantage EU carriers at the expense of those from third countries who will refuel outside the EU,” says Kočař.
Changes may also occur with regard to aviation fuel taxation, as kerosene is exempt from value added tax in almost the entire European Union. “This could now change to increase the pressure to switch to more sustainable fuels. These are to be favored despite the consumption tax. The proposed amendment to the directive envisages that sustainable fuels would be subject to a zero rate for a period of ten years,” said KPMG tax expert Martin Krapinec.