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United Airlines and JetBlue among a new group to advance sustainable fuels

Jet A-1 fuel, the main fuel for today's jet turbine engines.

Jet A-1 fuel, the main fuel for today's jet turbine engines.

Adam Loader

The Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA), the group of firms that plans to compensate for its corporate aviation emissions through investments in sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), has launched a new initiative dedicated to expanding the supply of SAF globally.

Amazon Air, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines are the founding members of the new Aviators Group, which has a mission to "drive investment in high-integrity SAFs and accelerate the transition to net zero emissions air transport", SABA said Wednesday.

On top of driving greater SAF production, the group aims to accelerate cost reductions and technological innovation across the nascent sector so as to rapidly expand the SAF market, it added.

Ben Minicucci, CEO of Alaska Airlines, said production of SAF was "not yet" where the aviation industry needed it to be if airlines are to meet their climate goals. "That's why it's critical we work together to build a robust market for SAF," he said. "We recently partnered with fellow SABA member Microsoft to use SAF to decarbonize their West Coast business travel, and today we are excited to join SABA, Amazon Air and others to create this new airline group focused on tangible steps, at scale, to accelerate progress and increase availability for all."

The aviation industry is banking on sustainable aviation fuels to drive near-term emissions reductions.

The Aviators Group was formally launched at an event Tuesday in the US Pavilion at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow attended by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig.

In his address, the former presidential hopeful challenged SABA to accelerate its procurement of SAF and clinch a "significant number of offtake agreements" for the cleaner aviation fuel ahead of next year's UN climate summit in Egypt.

SABA, launched by the Rocky Mountain Institute and Environmental Defense Fund earlier this year, formally opened up its membership to all private and public organizations worldwide at the event.

"Addressing aviation emissions is a sizable and challenging hurdle in the decarbonization journey for many organizations," said Fred Krupp, president of the EDF. "The SABA was created to give aviation customers an avenue to reduce their emissions by investing in high-quality sustainable aviation fuels. We're eager to have climate-leading organizations join us in this effort."

It also announced that Meta had joined its founding customers group, with the tech behemoth formally known as Facebook joining a roster that includes a host of U.S. corporate giants such as Bank of America, Boeing, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, Netflix and Salesforce.

Meta had joined its founding customers group, joining a roster that includes a host of US corporate giants.

"As part of our commitment to reach net zero emissions across our value chain, we are proud to join SABA and contribute to a roadmap for sustainable aviation," said Edward Palmieri, director of global sustainability at Meta. "Supporting efforts to drive market demand for sustainable aviation fuel is important to our company because it's important to our employees — and it is a vital part of our goal to reach net zero emissions."

The aviation industry is banking on sustainable aviation fuels to drive near-term emissions reductions, arguing the technology provides an effective solution for reducing the aviation sector's emissions in the short- to medium term, while development of electric or hydrogen powered flight at scale remains in its relative infancy. 

However, critics have questioned the scale of the emissions savings on offer from such fuels and warned that the industry could struggle to secure sufficient SAF feedstocks to fully displace fossil fuels. As such, some have argued that the sector's embrace of new fuels is a distraction from the need to curb demand for flights and boost investment in fledgling zero emission technologies that can deliver more substantive emissions reductions.

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