Decarbonising aviation: Clear for take-off


Decarbonising aviation: Clear for take-off

An industry perspective

Decarbonisation has become a global imperative and a priority for governments, companies, and society at large. This report is the third in a series by Deloitte and Shell, exploring the decarbonisation of harder-to-abate sectors. This research outlines the current state of the aviation sector, identifies the barriers to decarbonisation readiness, and proposes solutions and a flight plan to accelerate decarbonisation in the sector.

The drive to decarbonise

Aviation is fundamental to the world economy and keeping people connected. Today more than ever, it plays a vital role in expanding horizons and broadening opportunities to work, live and learn, for people all around the world. If even more people, communities and businesses are to enjoy these benefits the aviation sector must grow responsibly and play its part in a net-zero future.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, aviation produced around one billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2019, accounting for 3% of total emissions released into the atmosphere globally. And yet, aviation has been neglected when it comes to decarbonisation. Action now is critical if society is to meet the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

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Decarbonisation readiness: Where are we today?

90% of research respondents prioritized the decarbonisation of aviation but there are significant barriers. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is up to two to eight times more expensive than traditional jet fuel, there is a lack of clarity and alignment across government and regulatory bodies regarding emission reduction targets, and many within the aviation industry are skeptical about the role of carbon offsets in helping mitigate emissions while SAF and other measures come to scale.

The research suggests clear strategies for overcoming these barriers. With collaboration across the industry, innovation and ambition, these strategies will significantly reduce aviation’s net emissions. Faster production, supply and use of SAF is crucial − hence, the need for incentives from Governments and regulators. Banks and other financial institutions should be encouraged to provide funding for SAF production and purchase as part of their environmental, social and governance commitments.

Report finding

Deloitte and Shell interviewed over 100 aviation executives and experts representing more than 60 organizations across the global aviation ecosystem to identify the key barriers to decarbonising aviation and practical solutions to accelerate the industry’s transition towards net zero. Highlights from this research includes:

  • Aviation has often been considered a sector that will decarbonise later than others, because of the complexity involved and the view that aviation accounts for “just 3% of global emissions”. But there is a need to act now.
  • The sector is facing several barriers to decarbonisation − reluctance of passengers to accept the cost of low-emission solutions, lack of regulatory support, prohibitively high cost of SAF, and concerns about quality, transparency, and communications.
  • Long-term customer demand, enabled by recognition mechanisms and differentiated propositions, will play a fundamental role in providing the funding and incentives for airlines to invest in lowering their emissions.
  • Country- and region-based policy incentives relating to supply and demand will accelerate the adoption of SAF and regulation at regional and global level.
  • Offsets can play an essential role in funding the early stages of decarbonisation. But for this to happen, they must be made more transparent and verifiable. They need to be more emotionally appealing to passengers, and their impact should be clearer.
  • Choosing SAF as the primary means of decarbonisation will have a disproportionate impact on lowering emissions, because there is no need to redesign aircraft. As a result, investments and R&D efforts can focus mainly on scaling production and lowering cost.
  • Collaboration with other sectors is essential to the successful deployment of SAF. It can drive down the cost of required technologies, such as hydrogen production, direct air capture and biomass conversion, and ensure effective use of scarce resources.
  • The pathway to decarbonisation needs to be more ambitious and investments need to start sooner to address societal expectations, reach sufficient SAF volumes and bring down cost to the levels required for large-scale adoption within 15 years.
  • Individual initiatives should be integrated into comprehensive plans representing all points along the value chain – from energy producers to end-customers. These plans should be systematically deployed in areas with favourable policies, market conditions, and access to SAF.

Connected for a new energy future

Energy is the pulse of our day-to-day life and how we create and use it  is evolving rapidly. At Deloitte, we understand the opportunities the Future of Energy brings and the importance of connecting ecosystem players, innovators, regulators and thought leaders to create a new energy world that is sustainable and abundant. In collaboration with Shell and working closely with many leaders of the transport industry, Deloitte explores the promise of decarbonising the industry. We truly believe that as ecosystem players connect and adopt the right mind-set, the positive impact we make can be accelerated.

This report was produced in collaboration with Shell.

Decarbonising the transport sector

Three industry perspectives


As part of our Future of Energy initiative, Deloitte collaborated with Shell to develop a series of reports that address the decarbonisation challenge of these harder-to-abate sectors. “All hands on deck”, “Getting into gear”, and "Cleared for Take-off" focus on the shipping, road freight, and aviation sector respectively and highlight practical solutions to help accelerate decarbonisation in those sectors.

Discover all three industry perspectives 


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