Unipart Consultancy reflects on the Sustainable Skies World Summit

May 2024 – Last week, Unipart Consultancy visited the Sustainable Skies World Summit in Farnborough. The event brought together a large number of attendees, from government representatives to well-known airlines, to support the aerospace industry’s efforts towards becoming net zero.

The event, now in its third year, promotes conversations aimed at tackling both immediate and long-term challenges, while also generating actionable solutions to propel the aerospace industry towards a more sustainable future. This year’s focus is on the aviation industry’s current efforts towards becoming net zero and identifying what needs to be done to achieve this. We’ve put together our takeaways from the event, that we think will be key in contributing to a more sustainable future for aerospace.

Progress towards net zero aviation

The Jet Zero Council (JZC) was formed in 2020 to advise on the government’s ambitions for clean aviation. The JZC aims to deliver at least 10% SAF in the UK fuel mix by 2030 and zero-emission transatlantic flights within a generation1. Following these suggestions, the UK launched its Jet Zero strategy in 2022, which outlines the government’s plans to achieve net zero aviation by 2050.

We attended a talk from the Jet Zero Council with Rachel Gardner-Poole, Chair of the Zero Emission Flight (ZEF) Delivery Group and Jonathon Counsell, Chair of the SAF Delivery Group. The talk focused on updates from their respective delivery groups, with the ZEF Delivery Group outlining their key actions from now until 2028. By 2028, their primary goals include demonstrating zero-emission flights with a multi-stop tour of UK airports, and ensuring the UK supply chain is globally competitive for large commercial zero-emission aircraft. Alongside this, they are preparing key regional and UK hub airports to support commercial hydrogen and battery-electric aircraft.

ZEF conducted a perception survey of 2000 people in the UK and found that 82% are open to flying on a hydrogen-powered plane, and 77% would consider flying on planes run entirely on batteries. The study was important, as the readiness of the public to accept new ways to power flights is pivotal for the successful adoption and integration of zero-emission flight technologies.

The role of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

The opening keynote by McKinsey’s Robin Riedel, on pioneering sustainable aviation, discussed the importance and priorities for the industry. He highlighted that aviation emissions have already risen back to pre-Covid levels, and are continuing to rise. To combat this, in July 2022, the Department for Transport confirmed that it would introduce a Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) mandate in 2025, requiring at least 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable feedstocks by 20302. SAF is an alternative to fossil fuels and can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel.

There was a focus on operational carbon reduction through the adoption and use of SAF, but as a later C-Suite Discussion with Sean Doyle, CEO at British Airways, Shai Weiss, CEO at Virgin Atlantic, Julie Kitcher, Chief Sustainability Officer at Airbus, and Brian Moran, Chief Sustainability Officer at Boeing, highlighted, there is a real need to unlock the supply to meet the demand, in order to subsequently enable those targets. Whilst many Airlines are committing to significant orders of SAF, for example, British Airways has recently placed a significant order with Canadian SAF Firm Twelve3, the supply chain is not set up to execute on that demand quickly. There are opportunities to enhance the capability and capacity of the manufacturing and supply chain to unlock that demand, through a period of intense business model and product innovation.

Julie Kitcher and Brian Moran also discussed the importance of innovation in the aircraft itself, highlighting that the journey to electrification and hydrogen-powered aircraft is happening, but that we must also adopt shorter-term initiatives alongside this to mitigate carbon (such as the adoption of SAF). The shift in fuel source for the OEM and for the ground infrastructure is a significant one and requires a change in the nature of the supply chain to enable it – this should be considered alongside the product innovation itself.

We also note that whilst operational carbon is vastly important to ensuring customer demand, whilst delivering the business in a responsible way, there is an opportunity for minimising embedded carbon too. We have been working with major OEMs across the Aerospace and wider Transportation sectors, to identify the breakdown of emissions within the components of the manufactured product, to pinpoint and focus on eliminating or reducing such emissions through better sourcing decisions, material adjustments or process transformation, amongst other things. This remains a really important facet to consider alongside simply reducing the in-use operational carbon footprint of the aircraft.

With the price of aviation reducing and flying becoming cheaper for consumers, this can be intrinsically linked to sustainability as airlines become more efficient. However, despite prices falling, travellers are willing to pay a premium for flying sustainably. While SAF may be more expensive than traditional jet fuel, the JZC survey found that Brits would be willing to pay 27% more for a zero-emission flight, with over 60% of travellers willing to pay more for green products, so aviation can and must create products to be pragmatic in solving the problems for the industry.

However, the growth of the SAF industry is not completely reliant on consumer spending. The government has pledged to ambitious yet realistic goals, aiming for approximately 1.2 million tonnes of SAF supplied annually to the UK airline sector.

The SAF industry is projected to contribute over £1.8 billion to the UK economy and generate more than 10,000 jobs nationwide. This expansion is bolstered by recent funding of £135 million allocated through the Advanced Fuels Fund, which supports the development of 13 pioneering SAF projects throughout the country4. Globally, over 60 SAF projects are underway, with over £30bn committed in funding.

The Roadmap to 2050

Matthew Gorman, Chair of Sustainable Aviation, presented a roadmap showing current progress toward reducing CO2 emissions from departing UK flights. His Roadmap highlighted that we inhibit the necessary tools to remove carbon from flying, and that we need to collectively scale the challenge of decarbonisation quickly.

Matthew’s Roadmap identified SAFs as the largest single factor in mitigating CO2 emissions, with the potential to reduce by 39%. Whilst fleet upgrades, with known aircraft types and future aircraft types (including hydrogen and electric aircraft) combined, have the ability to reduce emissions by 30%.

Other factors that will contribute to emissions reduction include carbon removals (13% reduction) and improved airspace and aircraft operations (4% reduction), and the successful combination and implementation of all the factors are shown to achieve net zero aviation by 2050.

Your journey to supply chain sustainability

If you’re looking for more support in sustainable aviation, or need help with your supply chain’s sustainability journey, get in touch with us at Unipart Consultancy. Contact us here.

See our Sustainability webpage to learn how our approach can be translated into a solution for your organisation, which, supported by our expert consultants, will embed sustainable practice into every aspect of your business.


  1. Department for Transport – Jet Zero strategy: delivering net zero aviation by 2050 – July 2022
  2. Department for Transport – Pathway to net zero aviation: Developing the UK sustainable aviation fuel mandate – March 2023
  3. Gaurav Sharma – Californian Firm And British Airways Owner IAG Ink ‘Largest’ Deal For Sustainable Aviation Fuel – February 2024
  4. Department for Transport and The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP – Aviation fuel plan supports growth of British aviation sector – April 2024