Fast 5: Driving FBO Sustainability

Megan Eisenstein
NATA Managing Director of Industry and Regulatory Affairs Megan Eisenstein
Credit: National Air Transportation Association

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is at the forefront of driving environmentally sustainable practices by aviation service businesses, including fixed-based operators. In November 2021, the association unveiled a new initiative, the NATA Sustainability Standard for Aviation Businesses, that provides FBOs with a self-certification roadmap for lowering their carbon footprints.

To help companies get started, NATA will offer step-by-step instruction on establishing a baseline carbon footprint—including how to identify Scope 1 and 2 emissions and use a carbon calculator—during a webinar scheduled for Feb. 2, from 1-2 p.m. ET. Sustainability expert Nancy Bsales, COO of 4AIR, will participate.

BCA spoke recently with Megan Eisenstein, NATA managing director of industry and regulatory affairs, about the Sustainability Standard for Aviation Businesses and other steps the association is taking to promote environmentally friendly business operations and practices.

In December 2021, Clay Lacy Aviation announced that it was the first company to certify to the NATA Sustainability Standard for Aviation Businesses. What has been the reaction to the standard across the industry, and do you anticipate widescale adoption by FBOs?

So far, we’re very pleased. Word of mouth has really been a huge factor in this, and we continue to get support from NATA committee members. The folks who have so far submitted their checklists and have become part of the program—most of them have then issued their own press releases. The minute these companies put out their press releases, I get emails from other people saying ‘Hey, I heard Clay Lacy just announced they’re part of the program. What is this? How do we do this?' Participating companies will be recognized on our website and are able to display their NATA Sustainability Standard for Aviation Businesses status to their customers. NATA is also working with industry experts to help them on their path to sustainability. 

What challenges do FBOs face in deploying sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale to the industry, and does it depend on fuller adoption of SAF by airlines?

It’s not just airlines that can drive the scale-up of SAF. Many corporate and individual customers are driving that demand, to spur the growth of SAF through business aviation. SAF proliferation faces challenges from investment and production to cost and availability of feedstocks, along with new pathways and price parity. In our Environment Committee meetings, we talk about how today SAF is still limited in production. There is only so much supply available to various FBOs, corporate and airline customers. The investment in new production from current and new feedstocks will need to continue to grow to allow FBOs to scale up their SAF offering. Another issue we talk about quite often is the cost parity [with fossil-based Jet-A], and localized state incentives are likely to help concentrate much of that distribution into certain states and regions. For a national incentive, there’s the Blenders Tax Credit. That would help create a national scale and better price parity across all of aviation. A lot of the alphabet groups are teaming to support the Blenders Tax Credit. That would really help increase the supply to meet the increasing demand.

Signature Flight Support and Jet Aviation are among companies that have recently announced new book-and-claim programs that allow customers to purchase SAF even in locations where it is not available. Do you expect that book-and-claim will become more of a trend to make SAF more easily available?

I do. People talk about book-and-claim a lot within the Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Aviation Fuel, a coalition of international aviation organizations that NATA has been a part of since its inception. I know the industry at this point in time is relying heavily on book-and-claim to help stir that growth in the demand for SAF. By increasing access to SAF, this will provide additional volume and help to decarbonize the aviation industry. We talk a lot about how book-and-claim can help build out this market. The supply right now is primarily on the West Coast and that’s mainly due to California’s low-carbon fuel standard, which is incentivizing the delivery there. Only aircraft based there can physically uplift it. That’s why book-and-claim is a way to get it out into other locations, by affording others outside of California the environmental attribute of SAF through a book-and-claim program. 

NATA is among associations that have called for increased funding of the Alternative Fuels for General Aviation program, saying the program “is at a critical juncture.” How important is transitioning the piston-engine component of the industry to unleaded aviation gas?

It’s very important. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a press release [on Jan. 12] announcing it will evaluate whether lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft endanger human health and welfare. We’ve been waiting for this announcement for years. It’s a first step in its plan to issue a proposal for public review and comment in 2022 and take final action in 2023 regarding an endangerment finding. Through the Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative (PAFI), for years now, industry and the FAA have been working toward an unleaded fuel solution to replace 100LL. There are other fuel solutions out there like 94UL, but that only meets a certain percentage of the piston fleet. This issue is becoming more and more important, especially within the last six months since airports such as Reid-Hillview (KRHV) and San Martin (E16) in Santa Clara County are now banning 100 Low-Lead. It’s really impacting all the GA associations, and NATA continues to work with the agencies and other industry stakeholders on a safe and viable unleaded fuel solution for the entire general aviation piston fleet.

Much of the discussion about sustainable aviation focuses on sustainable aviation fuels, but SAF is just one piece of developing environmentally friendly businesses. What other practices does NATA recommend for FBOs?

A lot of these practices are included in our Sustainability Standard. The standard includes questions on whether you are using recycling receptacles, or if you are implementing paperless systems, where feasible. Are you installing LED interior and exterior lighting? Another example would be, do you offer filtered water fill stations or water fountains to reduce plastic water bottle usage? A couple of FBOs that were part of the beta test process of the standard review completely removed all plastic water bottles and now only offer boxed water. Some folks have phased out plastic items such as straws and coffee stirrers—it can be the little things. Some FBOs have solar panels, which is a huge investment. Some people have installed motion-sensor lighting in hangars as well. These are such practices that help encourage sustainability operation-wide.

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.