Fuelling the Sustainable Aviation agenda: How the East of England is flying toward Net Zero travel

Whilst 2020 was not quite the ‘fantastic year for Britain’ that Boris Johnson might have hoped for, the prospects for 2021 are looking somewhat brighter. The release of the Energy White Paper at the end of last year has helped MPs enter into the new year with a fresh approach to the nation’s short-term recovery from the pandemic, and indeed to the long-term aspirations of establishing a ‘Global Britain’ in the wake of Brexit.

Aside from Covid and Brexit, there is another phrase that is at the forefront of policymakers minds this year: Net Zero. In the recently published Energy White Paper, the newly full-time COP26 President Alok Sharma, describes the ‘huge opportunity’ for job creation in the green sector: including the creation of clean energy, electric vehicles, and low-carbon technologies. Dubbed the Green Industrial Revolution, the Paper sets out a Ten Point Plan that includes ‘Jet Zero’ – a plan to drive the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, investments in R&D to develop zero-emission aircraft and plans to develop the ‘infrastructure of the future’ at our airports to establish the UK as the home of green planes.

But what does Jet Zero look like on the ground for the East of England? The UK is currently home to a continually growing network of Life Sciences, Advanced Manufacturing and R&D organisations who are working towards this ambition, a substantial number of whom are based in the region. Partners across these sectors are coming together to reimagine the future of aviation and to support the government in reaching Net Zero flight by 2050.

Cranfield University, based in Bedford, is one of the leading partners bringing forward the Sustainable Aviation agenda in the East of England. The University’s Global Research Airport and Urban Observatory are leading the way in developing interconnected approaches to aircraft electrification, digital aviation and environmental monitoring and mitigation – and believe the government’s target of Net Zero aircraft by 2050 is more than achievable. Alongside other industry leaders, the East of England looks set to hit the runway with its innovative approach to sustainable air travel.

As Central Government prepares to launch its UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETC) to replace the UK’s participation in the EU ETS, leading the way in pioneering decarbonisation technologies will be one of its most crucial deliverables supporting the credibility of the scheme. The UK ETS will allow the UK to expand carbon pricing across the economy and continue to encourage innovation in new technologies. In the East of England, this translates into an impressive amount of funding to support the government in achieving sustainable aviation, and indeed to support the growth of existing Life Sciences, R&D and Tech clusters across the region.

Obtaining this investment in green sectors will not only help to bring the green utopia vision of Global Britain to fruition, but it will also bring expansive opportunities across the East of England. The acceleration to zero emission vehicles, including aircraft, is expected to create approximately 40,000 new jobs in the UK by 2030 – not to mention the high-level apprenticeships and qualifications that will be created to support the labour force to obtain these jobs. We can expect a significant portion of these jobs and qualifications to be concentrated in the East of England, given that it is home to several major airports and leading technical Universities and Colleges who are working on Jet Zero.

Unlike in previous years where Net Zero and decarbonisation has been somewhat an afterthought or empty addition to policy development, the Energy White Paper contains within it meaningful rhetoric, sensible policies and substantial levels of funding to support the UK’s move toward Net Zero by 2050. The possibility of achieving truly sustainable air travel in the East of England would place the region on the Global Stage as the scientific hub of excellence that it is striving for – all that is left to do now is to watch this space.

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