Farnborough Airport CEO: SAF Trial Proves Price Is Biggest Barrier

Farnborough's SAF fueling
Farnborough's SAF is provided by World Fuel Services and Neste.
Credit: Farnborough Airport

FARNBOROUGH—Farnborough Airport almost sold out of sustainable aviation fuel in the run-up to the Farnborough International Airshow as the airport's two-week price-match promotion proved a hit with business-aircraft operators. 

The airport subsidized the cost of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) during the first half of July, meaning customers could choose to uplift the lower-emission fuel for the same price as standard Jet A1. Anecdotal evidence suggests that price is the key barrier to greater sustainable aviation fuel SAF uptake. Now, airport CEO Simon Geere tells ShowNews, the experience provided over the brief period of price parity at last adds data to what had previously been an unproven theory. 

"I think it was pretty conclusive: price does drive demand," he says. "We pretty much sold all we can get our hands on in the run-up to the show. And we had a lot of enquiries to prebook the uptake of SAF at the Airshow, so we're selling a lot of SAF over the next four or five days too, which is great."

    The airport will not give precise figures, and Geere cautions that, while the amounts sold are well above the average seen since Farnborough began offering SAF last year, the actual volumes of SAF being pumped remain frustratingly small compared to his initial aspiration. At least, the experiment was conclusive: The airport’s management team was wondering whether price was an excuse and operators were hiding the real reasons. Pricing was actually the main motive.

"We sold more in two weeks than we've sold over 12 months," he says. "But, just to manage your expectations, that's still quite a low uptake. I don't really want to give the numbers, for a whole host of reasons. But we were pleased with the number of customers who were interested, and chose to take SAF at the discounted price. We were into double digits in terms of operators who participated, whereas historically we've only had less than a handful who have taken SAF on a regular basis."

There were a few things that the airport has learned from the exercise, chief among them being that there remains some work still to do on education and information.  

"Historically what's happened is, people have said, 'I'm not going to take SAF, it's too expensive,' and haven't done any further research into what it might mean in practice," Geere says. "And then, when we've reduced the price, there was a bit of, 'Oh, right: well, I've got a thousand questions.' And we weren't able to answer all the questions in time to be able to make good of the offer. We've got a bit more work to do around how we communicate what SAF is, and what the technical specification is of the SAF that we stock. It's more than just about the blends: people are asking a lot of other questions." 

Geere says the message Farnborough Airport wants to send on the day the UK government launches its Jet Zero strategy is straightforward. 

"A key component of the Jet Zero strategy is the adoption of SAF, and it's clear that price is going to be an issue," he says. "The questions for government are: How are we going to increase production at refineries, how are we going to get that investment in the UK, how are we going to be leaders in this area? That will bring down price, and no doubt increase demand. 

"From a Farnborough Airport perspective, we want to be leading in this field, and at some point in the future it would be fantastic for Farnborough to be a SAF-only airport," he adds. "We can't do that today, because we've never been able to get the supply. But we could underpin an awful lot of demand that could be the catalyst for having the wholesale refining and production of SAF on UK shores, and ideally in Hampshire, to support the UK economy. That's the message for government: Now's the time for friendly policymaking to support those goals, and, if necessary, financial support to get the investment required to get the supply levels up."

Angus Batey

Angus Batey has been contributing to various titles within the Aviation Week Network since 2009, reporting on topics ranging from defense and space to business aviation, advanced air mobility and cybersecurity.