European Parliament Raises Airport Requirements For SAF

SAF refueling at Munich Airport
Credit: Munich Airport

The European Parliament has voted to increase the minimum share of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) that should be made available at EU airports in coming years. 

It also amended the types of fuel that fall within the ambit of SAF and proposed a new fund to accelerate their introduction.

Parliamentarians also tasked the European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive arm, with developing an EU labeling system by 2024 to record the environmental performance of aircraft, operators and commercial flights. This potentially could spur laggard airlines into improving their environmental performance, with the risk that consumers might otherwise shun them.

The parliament voted July 7 that the minimum amount of SAF to be available at EU airports should be 2% by 2025, increasing to 37% by 2040 and 85% by 2050. The EC initially proposed 32% by 2040 and 63% by 2050.

The overall aim is to have the EU become carbon-neutral by 2050. The ReFuelEU Aviation initiative is part of the “Fit for 55 in 2030” package, which comprises the EU’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

The parliament amended the proposed definition of SAF. As well as synthetic fuels or some biofuels produced from agricultural or forestry residues, algae, biowaste or used cooking oil, SAF now includes recycled carbon fuels produced from waste-processing gas and exhaust gas deriving from the production process in industrial installations. The parliament also suggested some biofuels—those produced from animal fats or distillates—could be included in the fuel mix until 2034. 

Members also included renewable electricity and hydrogen as part of a sustainable fuel mix, as both are promising technologies that progressively could help decarbonize air transport. 

However, the parliament excluded feed and food crop-based fuels as well as those derived from palm oil, soy-derived materials and soap stock, because they do not align with proposed sustainability criteria.

The parliament proposed creation of a Sustainable Aviation Fund from 2023 to 2050 to accelerate the aviation decarbonization and support investment in SAF, innovative aircraft propulsion technologies and research for new engines. The fund would be supplemented by fines for violations of these rules.

“Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize,” says Soren Gade, the parliament rapporteur overseeing the proposals. “Today we showed how to do this and sent a strong and ambitious signal to the citizens of Europe. We heard you when you called for climate action, and we are working as much as we can to achieve a truly green Europe.”

The next step is for the parliament to start negotiations with the EU’s 27 member-states.

The European green group Transport & Environment (T&E) welcomed the parliament’s action in excluding controversial biofuel feedstocks from the ReFuelEU mandate, including palm oil by-products.

“Sustainable aviation fuels should have no link whatsoever to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and increasing food prices,” says T&E’s aviation policy officer, Matteo Mirolo. “Today, EU lawmakers have gone a good way toward a definition of SAF that is positive for our planet and the credibility of aviation’s green future.” 

However, T&E wants the EU to go further, by banning animal fats from the portfolio of acceptable SAFs.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.