Today, at the Sustainable Skies World Summit at Farnborough, the UK aviation industry has announced higher ambition in its transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with the publication of an updated Net Zero Carbon Road-Map, reflecting advances in sustainable aviation technology made here in the UK. 

The Road-Map is published by Sustainable Aviation – the industry coalition of the UK’s leading airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers, air service navigation providers, and innovation companies in sustainable aviation fuel and carbon removals – and is an update to previous plans published in 2020 and 2021.

It highlights the vital role and potential for SAF and zero carbon emission technologies such as hydrogen powered aircraft and carbon removal technologies, together with the immediate advances being made in modernising airspace to help UK aviation reach net zero by 2050.

Home of innovation

The UK is the global home of innovation in sustainable aviation, and has delivered a number of world firsts, including: 

  • Since 2021, NATS has implemented nine airspace modernisation changes including the first UK implementations of Free Route Airspace and systemisation, saving more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 per year; and made changes to the North Atlantic track structure saving almost 1m tonnes of CO2 per year
  • In November 2022, the RAF and industry partners carried out a world-first 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight using a military transporter aircraft – an RAF Voyager. 
  • UK SAF production started last year on the Humber by Philipps 66 Ltd, with at least eight more producers planning plants in the UK, with the right Government incentive policies. 
  • Last November Rolls-Royce and easyJet achieved the world’s first run of a modern aircraft engine on hydrogen.
  • In January 2023, ZeroAvia conducted the successful first UK flight of a 19-seater Dornier 228 with one of the two engines running on hydrogen fuel cells. 
  • Later in 2023, the world’s first net zero transatlantic flight will take off from London to New York – using solely sustainable aviation fuel.

Current and future advances

As a result of these current and future advances the UK aviation industry plans to reduce its carbon emissions by almost 70 MtCO2 to meet its net zero targets, with: 

Two measures accounting for around three quarters of aviation’s journey to net zero:

  • 26.4 Million Tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) saved from sustainable aviation fuel
  • 22.6 MtCO2 saved by burning less fuel due to better air traffic management and operating procedures and the introduction of known and new, more efficient and zero carbon emissions aircraft.

The remaining 18.4 MtCO2 will be achieved through permanent carbon removals, and also slightly lower growth due to the decarbonisation cost impact on passenger demand, for example through the higher cost of SAF and compliance with global and regional carbon trading and offsetting schemes like CORSIA and EU ETS.

The Road-Map models the reality that the increased cost of decarbonising aviation will inevitably reduce passenger demand. The demand reduction due to the costs of decarbonisation represents around 14 percent of the industry’s reduction in CO2 emissions. However, this modelling also shows that, even with slightly higher costs, people still want to fly, with overall growth in passenger numbers of almost 250 million by 2050.

The UK has the right conditions to lead the world in developing sustainable aviation technologies like SAF and zero carbon emission hydrogen-powered aircraft. It has the third-largest global aviation network, a world-leading aerospace and aviation sector, and geographical advantages in both renewable energy generation and carbon capture capacity.


However, the industry warns that this leadership and the opportunity to make the UK home to a low carbon aviation industry is at risk. Without urgent Government action the UK may miss out on these industries of tomorrow. 

Matt Gorman, Chair, Sustainable Aviation, said: “This is the critical decade where aviation must prove it will decarbonise. Our updated Net Zero Carbon Road Map shows that we have a clear, credible path to take the carbon out of flying. Through a combination of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, more efficient aircraft and airspace, zero emission planes and carbon removals, we can protect the huge benefits of aviation for future generations without the carbon cost.

“But we’ll do it faster, and create more jobs and investment in the UK, with the right policies, working in partnership with Government. The US and Europe are surging forwards in the race to create new industries in sustainable aviation fuels and technology. The UK has all the natural advantages to be able to join them – but we need to move quickly.

“An agreed mandate for SAF as soon as possible and a price support mechanism – building on Philip New’s independent report for the Government  – are key policy areas where we can act now to gain a share of the huge prize of making Britain the natural home of net zero aviation.”
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