Airlines Say They Can Go Green... If You Pay for It

An industry leader said customers should expect higher ticket prices as airlines switch to more sustainable fuels.

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Logan International Airport on November 30, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Logan International Airport on November 30, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo: Chris Jackson (Getty Images)

Airlines are working to lower their carbon footprint, but flyers are going to have to help foot the costs, the leader of an international airline trade group said this week.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, called for more production of sustainable aviation fuel to speed up the industry’s green transition, Reuters reported. In an annual press briefing, Walsh said that airlines will increase ticket prices to keep their profits as they switch to greener operations. “Going forward as we see increases in carbon costs...there has to be an impact on ticket prices as the industry transitions to net zero. The airlines cannot absorb increased costs,” Walsh said, according to Reuters.

The IATA sets sets safety and sustainability standards for the aviation industry and represents 300 airlines around the world.

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In October, some 200 countries pledged to reduce carbon emissions in their aviation sectors. Transitioning to sustainable fuels will help the industry reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, a resolution that the IATA approved last year.

The sustainable fuels used in airplanes are made from biomass like oilseeds and corn and create less carbon emissions than traditional jet fuels. About 1 billion tons of biomass could be enough to make 50-60 billion gallons of low-carbon biofuels, according to the Department of Energy. Some airlines already use a blend of regular jet fuel and sustainable aviation fuels for flights, but regulations currently limit companies to a 50-50 mix. But biofuels are expensive—they currently cost almost four times as much as regular jet fuel.

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The U.S. is especially invested in transitioning to sustainable aviation fuels. In 2021, the Biden administration launched a challenge to supply 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuels each year by 2030. And the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act passed this year includes a tax credit to incentivize the production of biofuels.

Last month, British Airways, EasyJet, and Virgin Atlantic lobbied the UK government for billions of pounds in taxpayer money to cover the cost of using greener fuels, openDemocracy reported. Documents from the UK’s Department of Transport found that airlines would need £2 billion ($2.4 billion) a year by 2030.

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But there is reason to question some of the sustainable transition efforts. Flights that have been labeled “carbon-neutral” are, well, not. And the private-jet habits of the wealthy continue to be a major source of emissions (it’s totally OK to shame folks like Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift for their 11-minute flights). A single trip in a private jet can create more greenhouse gases than the average U.S. resident does in a year, one report found.