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Shifting towards sustainable aviation fuels

By Kristina Pisani, Economic Advisor

For the last two years, I had the opportunity to be present at the Malta Aviation Conference & Expo (MACE) and I can safely say that amongst many prevalent themes in the aviation industry, sustainability is a recurring one, especially in relation to sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). 1

Aviation is crucial to the global community. The aviation industry promotes tourism, connectivity and generates economic growth, such that it accounts for 4.1% of global gross domestic product. But it also contributes to the general rise in global emissions. The industry as a whole accounts for around 2% of global emissions which may rise to 20% without global action. 2 Aircrafts emit pollutants directly into the upper atmosphere which directly affect the erosion of the ozone layer and therefore its impact is larger than if emitted near the earth’s surface. 3

During its 41st ICAO Assembly in Montréal, which took place from 27th September to 7th October 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set a global goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally, we can achieve this goal with the combined efforts of national Governments and airlines adopting innovative technologies, streamlining flight operations and increasing production and deployment of SAF. 4

As at today, 57 airports are acknowledging the availability of SAF onsite at airports and distributing it, while several airlines are recognising and committing to using SAF. 5 Ryanair and Lufthansa are amongst the few who are making headways with SAF deployment. In fact, Ryanair has announced multiple partnerships in recent months with SAF suppliers, including ‘Neste’ which will power a third of its flights at Amsterdam Airport with a 40% SAF blend, 6 and ‘OMV’ with whom Ryanair entered into an 8-year agreement (starting from 2023) to purchase up to 160,000 tons of SAF (equivalent to a total Co2 reduction of 25,000 Ryanair flights from Dublin to Vienna). 7 Similarly, ‘OMV’ is also supplying the Lufthansa Group with over 800,000 tons of SAF starting from 2023 to 2030. 8 For anyone who wants to keep up with recent developments in aviation fuels, the Global Framework for Aviation Alternative Fuels (GFAAF) presents an informed online library of SAF tracking tools and a mountain of news announcements and other resources. 5

Following the net-zero carbon emissions target, many countries are following suit and setting their own national policies to ensure sustainable growth in aviation. Due to Malta’s small size and lack of connectivity, aviation is a fundamental pillar for the Maltese economy since it is our lifeline to other countries. As a result, the local Ministry for Transport developed a Civil Aviation Policy in which Sustainability appears as a long-term strategic objective. By 2030, Malta is expected to ensure the provision of SAF and the introduction of a blended mandate for its use; ensure airport operations are more sustainable; and prioritise flight efficiency by aircraft operators and the Malta Air Traffic Services. 9

We generally associate sustainability with electricity and batteries. In fact, electric transportation provides a green solution for shorter-to-medium routes which is typically enjoyed in Malta. But for longer routes (as those in aviation) batteries do not offer the same benefits; they are too heavy and have a large carbon footprint. This brings us to the point that sustainability in aviation does not necessarily mean batteries or electricity only, it can also mean hydrogen.

At the moment, hydrogen is getting more attention in Europe and around the world since it has many applications across the industry. It is considered as a future source of energy. Dr Anita Sengupta, CEO/Founder of Hydroplane Ltd and a regular speaker at MACE, states that “Malta has the potential to be the European operation for Hydroplane to connect Malta with other countries and continents, such as Africa.” The reality is that deploying hydrogen in Europe is challenging in terms of the regulation and the infrastructural network required.

In theory, Malta can very well become a European hub to supply and distribute SAF, yet the capacity and the investment required to support this might be too burdensome. Airlines, Governments and all stakeholders need to be aware of the challenges of SAF deployment, including the identification of the proper aviation fuel, its adaptability to current aircrafts and emerging technologies and its regulatory framework. Hence, despite the global effort and collaboration to incorporate SAF values in the industry, we must also realise that the 2050 net-zero target is not an easily achievable target.


1 Publication, IATA. Refer to: saf-what-is-saf.pdf (

2 News release, IEMA (September 2021)

3 Global Environmental Outlook, United Nations (2019)

4 News release, ICAO (October 2022)

5 Refer to ICAO Global Framework for Aviation Alternative Fuels

6 News release, Ryanair (April 2022)

7 News release, Ryanair (September 2022)

8 News release, Global Framework for Aviation Alternative Fuels (September 2022)

9 Civil Aviation Policy for Malta 2022-2030, MTICP (2021)


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