The European aviation industry is committed to reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The industry, represented by ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe, ASD, CANSO and ERA, commissioned SEO Amsterdam Economics and the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) to investigate whether this ambitious target would be feasible.

Our research shows that the industry can fully decarbonize by 2050 through a combination of measures. The majority (92 percent) of CO2 emission reductions can be achieved in-sector by adopting new technology, improving flight operations and using sustainable aviation fuels. The remaining 8 percent can be achieved out-of-sector by investing in carbon removal. Net-zero CO2 emissions are therefore feasible but require collaborative and decisive action from both governments and the industry. Both should work towards global commitment for a net zero carbon future to avoid differentiated policies, market distortion and carbon leakage.

First, we assessed to what extent new technologies, improved operations and sustainable fuels could reduce CO2 emissions until 2050. Based on cost estimates of the various measures we subsequently modelled the impacts on passenger demand and supply using our in-house developed NetCost passenger choice model. Subsequently, the impact on CO2 emissions was estimated with our aircraft emission model. The impacts were estimated against a reference scenario which took the impact of COVID-19 into account.

For this project we joined forces with NLR, whereby SEO was responsible for composing the reference scenario, modelling the demand and emission impacts and estimating the potential of economic measures. Technical know-how regarding future aircraft and engine technology, operations and sustainable aviation fuels was brought in by NLR.