Private aviation CEOs bullish on sustainability, public image goals

Private jet executives say the industry should focus messaging on “the movable middle” as it invests billions towards net-zero CO2 goals.

By Doug Gollan, May 28, 2024

While the climate and anti-wealth activists continue their campaigns and rhetoric targeting private jet users, the industry needs to focus on “the movable middle,” according to the CEO of a leading business jet manufacturer.

Speaking during a panel session in Geneva, Switzerland, at the European Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, Embraer Executive Jets CEO Michael Amalfitano pointed to an increase in private aviation consumers who say they are considering using sustainable aviation fuel and are open to flying on electric aircraft.

The industry has set a goal of being net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

While overall aviation accounts for just 2% of carbon emissions, business jets are just 2% of that total.

‘Movable Middle’

Amalfitano cited JetNet IQ research showing during the past five years, the percentage of users who are open to using SAF, which can cut carbon emissions by 80%, or flying on electric aircraft, jumped from “the low 30% range” to over 50%.

During the February Corporate Jet Investor Conference in London, a panel of climate activists told attendees that even if the industry achieved sustainability, the use of private aircraft by corporates and UHNWs goes against fairness.

At EBACE, Amalfitano said, “You start to see the movable middle. I think that’s where we should focus our attention in terms of conversation, as opposed to trying to fight off either those early adapters or the naysayers. It’s education. It’s collaboration.”

He added, “You have to focus on the next generation of workforce, and the jobs they want are not the jobs we have today. The jobs they want are going to be in green technology. It’s going to be in sustainable aviation fuel. It will be in all these programs, including hybrid electric and hydrogen (aircraft).”

Private Aviation Innovation

Critics from the left and right have slammed the 2050 net zero goal as pie in the sky.

However, Textron Aviation CEO Ron Draper told attendees, “Of course, I think it’s possible. It’s a big goal, but if you want big change, you have to set big goals.”

He said, “The rate of investment, the rate of innovation is exploding. If you look at this industry in the last few decades, it has reduced emissions by 40% just by trying to drive more fuel efficiency through aerodynamics and jet engine propulsion, without the amount of investment that’s going in the industry today.”

Draper continued, “The amount of investment from small electric aircraft and advanced air mobility up all the way up to larger aircraft with hydrogen power is enormous and accelerating. The amount of technology that is going to mature and come to market in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years is going to accelerate this change.”

He also pointed to adopting renewable energy and offsets, “all of the levers we have to pull.”

‘Working Together’

Joe Benson of Boeing Business Jets said, “It’s not something anybody on this stage or in this room can do on their own. There’s no silver bullet in technology or policy. It’s going to the whole of industry, academia, and government working together.”

Amalfitano praised the industry: “Business aviation is the technology incubator for all things sustainable.”

Chadi Saade of Airbus Corporate Jets said, “We need today to set up international regulations to incentivize and set the rules for speeding up SAF production.”

During an earlier press conference, Dassault Aviation CEO Éric Trappier said he didn’t believe attempts to ban private jets would stick, comparing them to banning cars and instead mandating busses.

He told the media, “Business aviation is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Panelists agreed that the industry’s challenges to becoming climate-friendly are, in fact, a draw for young and bright minds.

During the luncheon panel, Draper told attendees that Textron Aviation will have over 400 summer interns this year, “all who want to work here.”

Last October, 10 leading industry groups announced Climbing Fast, an advocacy group providing educational data about business aviation, how it supports jobs and the economy, the communities it serves, and how it is working to reduce emissions.

Prior to the panel, the European Business Aviation Association joined the group.

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