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March 2, 2024
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Increasing its uptake of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) to slightly over one-third (34 percent) is one of the means how Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair wants to become carbon neutral by 2050. The use of more SAF is part of its ‘Pathway to Net Zero’ that was presented on March 21. Ryanair targets use of one-third of SAF by 2050.

Ryanair is claiming to be one of the greenest airlines, with pre-Covid carbon dioxide emissions of 66 grams per passenger and per kilometer. That’s fifty percent less than many European flag carriers, Ryanair said in its 2021 annual report. It reached this number thanks to a modern ‘green’ fleet, voluntary offsetting programs for customers since April 2020, and smarter operations.

The latest plan builds on the earlier strategy and is outlined in the 2021 sustainability report. Ryanair said earlier that it wanted to increase the use of SAFs to 12.5 percent in 2030 but now intends to make another jump to 34 percent by 2050. With SAF still very much in short supply in Europe (and elsewhere), Ryanair calls on the European Union and suppliers to stimulate the production. It will use its partnership with Trinity College in Dublin to further determine the sustainability of SAF and accelerate the certification of new blends. Ryanair welcomes the RefuelEU initiative of the European Commission’s Fit for 55 packages to mandate the use of five percent SAF by 2030, although it says it is well below its own initiative.

MAX 8200 and more efficient operations should save another 32 percent in emissions

Another third (32 percent) of its net-zero plan must come from technological and operational improvements. The technological jump must come by introducing more fuel-efficient Boeing MAX 8200 into the fleet, of which it now has 55 with another 155 on order. They reduce fuel burn per seat by sixteen percent and operate at forty percent lower noise levels. Combined with the use of SAF, the MAX 8200 should help reduces CO2 emissions from the current 66 grams per passenger/km to sixty grams in 2030.

On the operational side, Ryanair sees improvements thanks to using more optimized flight plans that save fuel, the use of auxiliary power units and single-engine ground taxi operations wherever possible, plus more continuous descent approaches into airports. This is also part of Ryanair’s quest to improve air traffic management with the Single European Sky SESAR program, which has been tested since last year and should bring ten percent fuel savings. Together with Airlines 4 Europe and in his previous role as its chairman, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has been pushing for the swift introduction of SES for years. Under the current European Commission, there finally seems to be some movement on the subject.

The final quarter (24 percent) of Ryanair’s carbon zero targets in 2050 must come from offsetting and other economic measures. The airline sees options for carbon capture offsetting programs as well as other offsetting schemes, but opposes additional kerosene taxes that have been proposed by the Fit for 55 plan for intra-European flights. The carriers said that in 2020, it already paid €630 million in environmental taxes but delivered no benefits as the proceeds hardly ever are applied to sustainability initiatives for aviation. The EU-tax scheme will do nothing for the ‘highest polluters’, which are the long-haul, intercontinental flights.

Offsetting schemes should be refined

Ryanair is more in favor of improving the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the worldwide CORSIA offsetting scheme, which should help reduce emissions in 2035 by some 2.5 billion tonnes. The airline calls on refining existing carbon-pricing mechanisms before creating new ones. It also wants to ”earmark any revenue raised from auctioning emission allowances to finance the high-tech transition towards lower-emitting aircraft that carry a higher load factor.” This would fit its own fleet of high-capacity MAX 8200s.

Part of the offsetting plan also is offering the option to passengers. Ryanair launched its Carbon Calculator in July 2021, offering passengers a choice to partially offset their flight for €2 of in full for €4.20. The scheme has been used by three percent of its customers, raising €3.5 million, but Ryanair wants to grow this. In all, the Irish carrier hopes to achieve the A-climate protection score next year from CDP, up from the already high current B-score.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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