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What will air travel look like in the future?

With global travel restrictions being gradually lifted, the skies will soon return to being the busy hub of activity they once were. Or will they?

In order to meet net-zero targets, the way people travel by air is likely to change over the coming decades. It's estimated that flying contributes around 2% of the world's global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

How can we cut this down?

The United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA) recently published ‘The Future of Mobility in the UK’. The report identifies important issues, challenges and possible solutions to how the UK can help its biggest carbon emitting sector – transport - meet net-zero targets by 2050.

The report found that aviation is the most challenging mode of transport to decarbonise, with few alternatives ready to step in as a replacement to kerosene-type fuel. 

The report also states that lower carbon travel options will likely become more popular, as services such as high-speed rail become faster and improve capacity. 

Flying will still be a main form of travel, however one alternative to the traditional jet fuel is hydrogen. UKPIA predicts that the growth of hydrogen for short-haul flights will depend on the implementation of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at UK and European airports.

Different fuelling methods are already being rolled out, with the first long-haul flight powered by biofuels taking to the skies last month. The Air France-KLM flight from Paris to Montreal used a mix of petroleum-based jet fuel and a synthetic aviation fuel made from used cooking oils produced by French oil major Total. Importantly, no modifications to the storage and distribution infrastructure, aircraft or engines were needed to be able to use the biofuel.

Overall, the UKPIA report found that to meet net-zero targets, there needs to be a combined effort from all in pursuing all technology options with low carbon fuels, and hydrogen (both blue and green), playing important roles across the UK’s methods of transport.