Airline CEOs, Biden officials consider green-fuel breaks

AP – Chief executives of the United States’ (US) largest passenger and cargo airlines met with key Biden administration officials on Friday to talk about reducing emissions from airplanes and push incentives for lower-carbon aviation fuels.

The White House said the meeting with Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also touched on economic policy and curbing the spread of COVID-19 — travel has been a vector for the virus. But industry officials said emissions dominated the discussion.

United Airlines said CEO Scott Kirby asked administration officials to support incentives for sustainable aviation fuel and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In December, United said it invested an undisclosed amount in a carbon-capture company partly owned by Occidental Petroleum.

A United Nations (UN) aviation group has concluded that biofuels will remain a tiny source of aviation fuel for several years. Some environmentalists would prefer the Biden administration to impose tougher emissions standards on aircraft rather than create breaks for biofuels.

“Biofuels are false solutions that don’t decarbonise air travel,” said climate-law official at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) Clare Lakewood.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Union Station in Washington. PHOTO: AP

“Real action on aircraft emissions requires phasing out dirty, aging aircraft, maximising operational efficiencies and funding the rapid development of electrification.”

Airplanes account for a small portion of emissions that cause climate change — about two per cent to three per cent — but their share has been growing rapidly and is expected to roughly triple by mid-century with the global growth in travel.

The airline trade group said US carriers have more than doubled the fuel efficiency of their fleets since 1978 and plan further reductions in carbon emissions. But the independent International Council on Clean Transportation said passenger traffic is growing nearly four times faster than fuel efficiency, leading to a 33-per-cent increase in emissions between 2013 and 2019.

The US accounts for about 23 per cent of aircraft carbon dioxide emissions, followed by Europe at 19 per cent and China at 13 per cent, the transportation group’s researchers estimated.

The White House said McCarthy, Buttigieg and Economic Adviser Brian Deese were “grateful and optimistic” to hear the airline CEOs talk about current and future efforts to combat climate change. President of the trade group Airlines for America Nicholas Calio said the exchange was positive.

“Airlines are ready, willing and able partners, and we want to be part of the solution” to climate change, Calio said in a statement. “We stand ready to work in partnership with the Biden administration.”