Easyjet bets everything on technology and abandons carbon offsets

Easyjet is refining its trajectory towards net zero emissions. The low-cost British airline has just presented, on September 26, its roadmap to achieve this objective by 2050. It relies solely on technological pillars, in accordance with the line drawn by the Science Based Targets initiative. (SBTi – Science Based Targets), founded by the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). An approach that will lead the company to stop its carbon offset program.

After several initiatives in recent years, Easyjet is therefore continuing its intense communication around the reduction of its environmental footprint. The roadmap unveiled by its managing director, Johan Lundgren, is based on five pillars which should enable it to reduce its emissions by 78% per passenger per kilometer by 2050, the rest coming from carbon capture. What to get rid of compensation measures, according to him.

NEOs at the forefront

The first pillar is the renewal of the fleet, well underway with the order of 227 Airbus A320 NEO family aircraft, including 59 already delivered, for an estimated amount of 21 billion dollars, according to list prices. With a gain in fuel consumption compared to conventional A320s, NEOs must provide the majority of the decarbonization effort by 2035, with the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

On this point, Johan Lundgren ensures that his company is ready to meet its needs and in particular the European incorporation mandates for the next five years, which provide for 2% of SAF in the total fuel consumed in 2025, then 5% in 2030, thanks to its partnership with Q8 Aviation.

The leader nevertheless assures that he wishes to go further with the need to prepare new generations such as synthetic fuels (e-fuel or power-to-liquid, resulting from the use of carbon-free electricity and hydrogen and the capture of carbon).

Modernized airspace and optimized procedures

The next two pillars relate to the modernization of airspace – with improved organization in the UK and Europe with the Single European Sky as tools currently being deployed for an emissions reduction of around 10 % – and on improving operational efficiency.

On this last point, one of the priorities is the generalization of descent profile optimization (DPO) and continuous descent approach (CDA) procedures. Easyjet has thus announced an investment of several million pounds sterling for a retrofit of the software of its entire fleet so that it can implement this type of procedure.

According to Wouter Van Wersch, Airbus Regional Vice President for Europe, DPO and CDA should save 98 tonnes of fuel and 311 tonnes of CO2 per aircraft per year, representing a potential reduction of 88,600 tonnes of CO2 for the entire A320 fleet per year. It also estimates the drop in the noise footprint at 10dB during the approach phases.

Easyjet believes in “green” aircraft

The last pillar is the introduction of zero-emission aircraft, mainly devices capable of using hydrogen either via combustion in heat engines, or via fuel cells powering electric motors. Easyjet is notably associated with Rolls-Royce to develop an engine powered directly by hydrogen.

The two partners thus presented a first demonstrator based on a modified AE 2100 turboprop, which should soon carry out a first campaign of ground tests. Grazia Vittadini, Rolls-Royce’s director of technology and strategy, expressed confidence in the tests to come and assured that it was only a first step, the objective being to fly.

In Easyjet’s vision, these future generations of aircraft should provide almost half of the reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050. A discourse that seems very optimistic with a high degree of confidence in technological developments. A fervent supporter of hydrogen, Guillaume Faury, Executive Chairman of Airbus, himself acknowledged at the last Paris Air Forum that it was more of a technology for the second half of the century whose “impact will still be very limited” before 2050.

Banned carbon offsets

Easyjet’s ambitions are not without counterparts. First of all, Johan Lundgren had an effect by announcing the abolition of his carbon offset program. This will still remain valid for all tickets purchased by the end of the year for departures until September 2023. It will only be available as an option for customers who wish it. This program had however made it possible to offset 8.7 million tonnes of CO2 since November 2019, but it does not correspond with the SBTi line which does not take into account offsets outside sectors and mechanisms such as the European quota trading system. (EU ETS) or the ICAO Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Johan Lundgren assured that it was only a transitional measure from the start. Without revealing its cost, he ensures that future technological investments will be much greater. However, it does not intend to bear the burden alone and therefore calls for action on the part of governments. As a priority, Easyjet is asking for the definition of an incentive framework for the implementation of low-carbon flights or the development of zero-emission technologies, the integration of hydrogen into the European RefuelEU Aviation initiative in the same way as SAF, the directing taxes on passengers linked to emissions towards the decarbonization effort, or even the acceleration of the Single European Sky.

But the orange company also wants to invest in renewable energies, in particular for the creation of green hydrogen for aviation and the development of the infrastructures necessary for its operation in airports (supply, storage, refueling), which will weigh very heavily in coming years.