74. The Future of Flight
This is the first of an Outrage + Optimism investigative series on The Future of Transport. Today our cars, planes, trains and ships cause nearly 30% of global carbon pollution. We think the pioneering spirit that got these industries and forms of transport underway more than 120 years ago will have to be reinvigorated to get to a transportation sector that is fit for a low carbon future.
This first episode tackles The Future of Flight. COVID-19 has dealt the airline industry a devastating blow. Airline revenues have been decimated, passenger numbers are down by 70% and hundreds of thousands of people have already (or are at risk of) losing their jobs.
Can this moment of challenge be a springboard toward a sustainable future for airlines? Are there sustainable solutions ready now? And what does the future hold? Tom Rivett-Carnac and co-hosts Christiana Figueres and Paul Dickinson are on a mission to find out what the new aviation pioneers have in store to accelerate the sustainability of airlines and propel us into The Future of Flight.
Read Tom’s blog to find out more from behind the scenes.
This series is sponsored by NESTE
Tom talked to:
Peter Vanacker, CEO of NESTE
Val Miftakhov, CEO of ZeroAvia
Robin Riedel, Consultant at McKinsey & Company
Keep up with Christiana Figueres here:
Follow @GlobalOptimism on social media!
Don’t forget to hit SUBSCRIBE so you don’t miss another episode of Outrage + Optimism!
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:10] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana Figueres: [00:01:13] I’m Christiana Figueres.
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:14] And I‘m Paul Dickinson.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:16] So this week, in a break from our normal format, we bring you the first in a special series of episodes looking at the future of transport.
[00:01:33] COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill for months, many of us couldn’t go beyond our own front doors. But as governments, industry and investors grapple with, the economic fallout will be asking if this could be a pivotal moment for change towards a cleaner, greener transport system. Imagine a plane from London to Paris powered by waste cooking oil or a cargo ship crossing the Pacific powered only by wind, or are congested cities empty of gas guzzling SUVs and replaced by autonomous on demand electric cars.
[00:02:06] The solutions are out there, but is there enough ambition to bring them to life? Today, we start with the aviation industry. Although commercial aviation is only responsible for two to three percent of global emissions, projected growth rates put it on a path to become one of the biggest contributors to accelerating climate change until COVID-19 dealt it a devastating blow.
News audio: [00:02:32] I’m here with just one request, airline CEOs are making a new plea on Capitol Hill to avoid a layoff cliff only days away. Congress. We need you to do your job and we need you to do it now.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:46] Across the globe, thousands of employees lost their jobs as planes remained idle on runways. Industry giants feared for their future.
Alex Cruz: [00:02:55] This is indeed the worst crisis that British Airways has ever gone through in its one hundred years of its history. COVID has devastated our business, our sector, and we’re still fighting for our own survival.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:10] That was Alex Cruz, the CEO of British Airways. And four days ago, he was fired from his position. So what impact will this painful new reality have on the aviation industry’s commitment to a sustainable future?
[00:03:25] We’ll be asking renewable energy leaders, innovators and analysts what they see on the horizon for this crucial economic but controversial sector that’s on this episode of Outrage + Optimism.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:57] So I don’t know about you guys, but there’s been so many changes in life over the last six or seven months, but the biggest one for me is I think that it has the longest since I was probably a teenager from getting on a plane. And I slightly blush to say that knowing the climate impact that it brings. But I haven’t been on a plane since March and it’s amazing how the world has ground to a halt. Presumably neither of you have anywhere either.
Christiana Figueres: [00:05:19] No, I have not been on a plane. And I have to admit it’s actually been quite delightful because this COVID thing. What I think is it has broken what I would like to call the flight addiction that we were all in without even noticing it. And now that we are on Zoom marathons that are driving all of us crazy, on the one hand, on the other hand, we’re realizing that to a great extent we can get our stuff done without getting on a plane. So considering the personal toll that it takes, the time involves the emissions involved, the cost involved, I really wonder whether we’re going to go back to the same flight behavior that we had before or whether we’re going to radically transform. I think corporations are already cutting down their budgets on travel because they know that that’s just not going to be a reality in post COVID days. And there will definitely still be some travel. It will be unavoidable or totally necessary business travel and beautifully it will be for those who can travel to experience other parts of the world, cultures, nature, beautiful, beautiful areas of the world that you don’t go and you visit for one day and then come back.
[00:06:43] Long vacations, much, much more than these, you know, one day, half around the world or three times around the world for a one night stop. That includes one lecture or one participation. Very, very different form of air travel.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:07:03] Well, I’m taking that Christiana as an invitation to come to Costa Rica with my family for at least six months. So I hope that’s how you meant it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:07:11] I thought we had already agreed to that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:07:14] Yeah, no, I agree. And of course, traveling around the world, sharing cultures is something we should applaud. Right. And has improved the world. And so we do need to crack sustainable aviation. But I also think along with that comes a significant behavior change where we just don’t fly as much. Paul, what do you think?
Paul Dickinson: [00:07:29] Well, to be honest with you, yes, I have been flying around the world on climate change business. But believe it or not, I did stop flying on holiday for 17 years or roughly from 2001 till about 2016 and went on a lot of train journeys, which were very expensive and lovely, actually. But look, I think we’re the last generation to do this ridiculous amount of travel. I mean, it’s crazy. And we’ve learned that that’s what COVID’s sort of taught us. I think the world’s resetting itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see any more office buildings built in our lifetimes. To be honest with you. I think that things are really, really changing. So that is yeah, that‘s an extraordinary impact. But no, the true impact on aviation from COVID, we will not know for some time. But I think it’s absolutely true to say that the economics of business and travel are being significantly undermined.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:15] So, I mean, I think travel will definitely reduce maybe permanently business travel. Certainly it’s crazy to think how we used to travel around the world. But of course, within that we are still going to need to visit loved ones, as you say, go to beautiful places, experience different cultures, and we’re going to need to find ways to decarbonise that. Part of what’s exciting about this series that we’re launching now is that we’re going to dig into that, you know, what’s the role of electric planes? What’s the role of hydrogen? Will we be able to fly without shame? And when will that come about? It’s a very exciting frontier, really.
Christiana Figueres: [00:08:47] And how do we produce the fuels that we have to produce without impinging on other things like food and biodiversity? How do we bring all of these things together? Because so much has been said about these new fuels actually taking food out of babies mouths. And of course, that is not something that we want to do. We do not want to pit these two things against each other. We have to be able to bring both in an integrated fashion together.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:15] Yeah, but it’s something that’s so close to people’s lives. I mean, my my wife is from the United States, so we travel back to see her father. It would be a terrible thing to not be able to see him anymore. But we do take other steps in our lives to try and reduce emissions. So like everybody, we struggle with it. Now, one thing that is for sure is that whatever your take on flying is, since the Wright Brothers first flight in nineteen eighty three, aviation has continued to inspire and excite the imaginations of pioneers around the world. And one man who says it’s in his DNA to go beyond the obvious is Bertrand Piccard. He piloted the first solar powered transatlantic flight.
Bertrand Piccard: [00:09:53] The first 50 years in the history of aviation has been a fantastic story of innovation, disruption, and then we had 50 years of optimization, making the aeroplanes safer and more efficient. But I think we have lost a little bit the sense of innovation now in commercial aviation. And it’s definitely the time to go back to innovation because we need innovation. We need more efficient aeroplanes, we need new types of fuels, we need new type of technologies and we need new type of procedures.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:10:28] And it seems to me that people with Bertrand’s ingenuity and spirit of making the seemingly impossible possible have never been more needed in the aviation industry because the challenge is huge. If airlines are going to make the monumental change required to significantly reduce their emissions in the next decade, then it’s going to need all these great minds and their innovative solutions to come together. So let’s start with some of the ideas already out there. Sustainability campaigner and writer Jonathan Porritt.
Jonathan Porritt: [00:10:58] The Real Story is all about sustainable aviation fuels. And that for me now is the most exciting, dynamic area, the interface between what the private sector can do and what government needs to do to create the right kind of policy settings for sustainable aviation fuels is incredibly timely and important. You look at what France has done with its mandate to rescue Air France and they have said you are going to have to sell a minimum percentage of the total fuel that you use. That is going to have to be sourced from a sustainable source, whatever that might be. My own read on this is sustainable in this instance does not mean land based fuels at all, as in fuels from crops grown on the land. I think competition for land is going to make that more and more impossible. And I think we’re talking now about industrial biotechnology, synthetic aviation fuels with the application of some of the most extraordinary science that is going on in the world today to combine different mixes of different techniques, different ingredients, different feedstocks, different raw materials in a way that is bordering on breakthrough. And all governments have got to do. I say this advisedly because I know this is really hard, but all governments have got to do is to set a mandate that no airline will be able to fly anywhere in the world unless 20 percent of the fuel that it uses is sourced from sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. Set that the mandate and you’ll be able to overcome some of the economic problems because all of these sustainable fuels at the moment are much more expensive than jet fuel.
[00:12:47] And one of the paradoxes we face is that with the cost of oil likely to remain low for quite some time unless government mandates that policy outcome we’ll never get market competition between conventional jet fuel and sustainable aviation fuels.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:13:11] But one company who’s banking on the future of sustainable fuels playing an increasingly significant role in aviation, is nesting a 70 year old oil refining company on the one hand, but on the other, the world’s largest producer of renewable jet fuel. Christiana and I caught up with company CEO and fellow stubborn optimist Peter Vanacker.
Christiana Figueres: [00:13:33] Peter, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. How confident are you about a sustainable and responsible future for aviation?
Peter Vanacker: [00:13:45] So what I would like to start with is, first of all, more and more companies, authorities, stakeholders, consumers, they are placing sustainability at the core of their strategy, of their behavior, of what they are standing for. We need to move from one room that is called fear to a room that is called hope.
Christiana Figueres: [00:14:09] Well put. Well put.
Peter Vanacker: [00:14:11] So what’s Neste all about? I mean, we are a company that makes fighting the climate crisis possible already today. So we help transportation, we help cities. We help aviation to make their business also more sustainable. So we take wastes and residues, so-called fatty acids that come out of different sources or use cooking oils that cannot be used anymore that otherwise end up in the drain. We are collecting it in China. We’re collecting it in Australia and Europe and the United States. From restaurant but the same I mean, for animal fats and residues to have this so-called carbon in it. So then we bring it to our refinery and then through a process that we have developed at Neste, we’re making these renewable hydrocarbons out of it. So they are 100 percent comparable with the oil based diesel or the oil based kerosene for the aviation industry. Of course, at the beginning, it wasn’t easy. So a lot of people didn’t believe in it. We were criticized. Lots of people left the company as well. Other people that were inspired by the purpose join the company. And what helped us a lot as a nimble company was this legacy of innovation.
Christiana Figueres: [00:15:37] So any market, Peter, obviously is made out of supply and demand and the relationship between those two. Would it be fair to say that on the one hand, demand for aviation fuel may be on the decrease, especially now after COVID and after everybody is Zooming all day long and and most companies have decided that they’re not going to do as much corporate travel as they used to, and hence there will be less demand for travel and for aviation fuel. So we’re chipping away on the demand. On the other hand, Neste is actually increasing supply of more sustainable as you as you have explained, using the carbon that we already have, but in a circular fashion to reuse it. We use very much in a similar way to we don’t do single use plastic bags. Right. Or single use plastic. We do multiple use plastic. And so I think the concept that you’re presenting is similar, right? Multiple uses of that carbon. But in effect, what it’s doing is if you can take this to scale, you are increasing supply and aviation as an industry is actually decreasing their demand of fuel. So do you see this as meeting somewhere in the centre where we will have less, at least less aviation or less air flights and it is now more possible to meet the demand that is foreseen? Do you see these two curves coming together?
Peter Vanacker: [00:17:23] If you look at the current consumption in aviation fuel, and that’s pre COVID-19 that was about three hundred fifty million tonnes a year. So I fully agree that because of COVID-19 we will think twice before we fly. So there will be an element of reduction first and at three hundred fifty, maybe it’s going to go down, who knows, after COVID-19 to three hundred million tonnes a year, but it’s still three hundred million tonnes of CO2 emissions then. And the consequence that is being emitted every year. So the pool is extremely large. So if you can replace half of it by sustainable aviation fuel, then imagine the impact it has in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions, knowing that sustainable aviation fuel is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:18:26] I’m curious to know your perspective of how our airlines are responding to this greater introduction of sustainable aviation fuel. And do you think that the recovery from COVID will accelerate that?
Peter Vanacker: [00:18:39] Already today, despite the I mean, disastrous situation for the airline companies, already more than 10 airlines were buying sustainable aviation fuel and they are not buying it because there is no regulation around it. They are buying it because they are funding it because either they find customers that are willing and they’re asking for it, willing to pay or they have made their own sustainability budgets available and they are funding that, buying sustainable aviation fuel out of these budgets.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:18] Can I ask you to sort of look into your crystal ball 15 years into the future to 2035 and imagine that you want to take a flight from, you know, to different places at opposite ends of Europe or you want to travel? What options do you think will be available in 15 years time?
Peter Vanacker: [00:19:34] There’s huge aspirations. If you look at the green deal in Europe now, 60 percent of greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030, we will never achieve that if we are not taking the solutions that today are readily available. So we may dream about new technologies, but technologies need their time to develop and to be scaled up. There’s huge investments involved in that. And investments are not just in terms of financial investment, but investment in people, people that need to build up these new units. And that takes time.
[00:20:10] So my key message is that we should not polarize one technology against the other technology, but we should be Stubborn Optimists and say, look, we have so many technologies available yet, let’s put them in place. Yeah, let’s leverage upon that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:32] So as Peter himself says, there’s no one technology or energy solution that can get us to that all important goal of net zero by 2050 or ideally well before. Collaboration, cooperation, and that decades old pioneering spirit is still going to be essential to take us over the horizon and into a sustainable future for aviation.
Robert Courts: [00:20:54] It’s an absolute honor to be here for the first flight of a hydrogen electric aircraft here today. And he just shows the depth of skill that there is here, real technological innovation. It’s one of the most historic moments in aviation for decades.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:09] That was the UK’s Aviation and Maritime Minister, Robert Courts. And the company behind that flight was Zero Avia last month. It flew a six seater retrofitted Piper Malibu plane, 20 minutes powered by hydrogen fuel cells. As far as I know, that was the first commercially available aircraft to do so. I spoke to CEO and founder Val Miftakhov.
[00:21:37] So I’d like to start by saying congratulations and I’d love to have you comment on what happened and how significant is it that we’ve reached this milestone?
Val Miftakhov: [00:21:45] Yeah, absolutely. This was an exciting moment, not only for the company, but also for the for the U.K. in that case, that most of the flights and for the entire aviation industry, I think our aircraft is now the largest hydrogen electric aircraft in the air.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:22:03] And can you just define for our listeners what you mean by hydrogen electric?
Val Miftakhov: [00:22:07] So hydrogen electric means that you use hydrogen to store the fuel or store the energy onboard the aircraft. So hydrogen fuel, but you don’t burn it. Instead, you use it in hydrogen fuel cells that are devices that take hydrogen and oxygen from the air and converts that into electricity. And the only byproduct is water as it is through zero emission. So that way you take the superior energy density of hydrogen as a fuel combined with the superior efficiency of electric motors. As propulsers and you got the best of both worlds.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:22:45] I understand you are working towards an even more significant milestone in the very near future, which is a two hundred and fifty mile zero emission flight out of an airfield in Orkney potentially before the end of this year. And that’s roughly the equivalent of short haul flights, certainly in Europe, like London, Edinburgh or in North America, L.A., San Francisco. Tell us about that.
Val Miftakhov: [00:23:06] Exactly right. Yeah. So these aircraft and we were targeting initially smaller aircraft, commercial aircraft, 10 to 20 seats. We think we’re going to have that product out in about three years. And there are about ten thousand aircraft like that in commercial service worldwide. And typically they fly these types of missions. Eighty six percent, I believe, of missions of that type of aircraft are below under three hundred miles and ninety five percent of the missions or flights are under five hundred miles. So showing a two hundred fifty mile flight this year. Right. Not even three years out. Right. Two hundred fifty mile flight on zero emission fuel is going to be quite significant and we definitely believe we’ll be able to do so. And it will be a great milestone for aviation.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:24:01] It’s so fascinating. And as you say, I mean, very few people realize how much of the market is these short haul flights. I mean, I would love to just ask you more broadly now, you know, we Outrage + Optimism comes from a perspective of realizing just the scale of the emergency we’re facing on climate change. And to have any chance of dealing with that, we need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. Looking at the aviation sector, which is always held up as one of the sectors that’s most problematic. Do you feel optimistic that we’re going to be able to do that?
Val Miftakhov: [00:24:32] Yes, from the technology perspective, I feel pretty optimistic. So our own roadmap, at Zero Avia, of course, starts commercial. It starts about three years out when we’re going to have the power plants that will power these 10 to 20 seat aircraft up to five hundred miles. And then the next time, next milestone for us is the 50 to 80 seat aircraft by 2026, 2027. And by the end of the decade, we will have the single aisle jet size airframe in the air on zero emission fuel.
[00:25:07] But you have things like fleet replacement cycles that you need to worry about because one of the problems in aviation is that a typical aircraft lasts 30 years and and in operation. So when people talk about zero emissions at zero at 2050 today is 20, 20 people buying airlines, buying aircraft today will just be retiring it in 2050. So that actually creates a serious problem for decarbonisation of aviation just from the fleet replacement perspective.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:25:44] You mentioned 2030. We should have commercial single aisle jets flying, I assume, short to medium distances, first of all, is that correct?
And secondly, when do you think we will have trans-Atlantic intercontinental hydrogen flights?
Val Miftakhov: [00:26:03] Yeah. So, yes, by 2030, say, single aisle. A good example is an Airbus 320, maybe lower trans still over 100 seats or Boeing 737, over one hundred seats will be able to get that up in the air and fly around a thousand miles. So 2030 is a reasonable time frame for that. And that actually on that same airframe, it is reasonably achievable to get to maybe two to three thousand mile range, which is great for, you know, intercontinental or in Europe or within North America or the United States, but to go across the ocean, you would need to push a little bit further. The biggest challenge there for hydrogen based power trains is the requirement for volume of fuel. And it was good to see, you know, just two weeks ago, just before we had our historic hydrogen electric flight, Airbus came out with three new aircraft concepts. And one of them was the wing body design that explicitly has, as one of the design considerations, increased the volume of fuel storage for hydrogen.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:27:31] And I just like to ask you finally about the hydrogen. So, I mean, obviously, this is an issue in terms of the hydrogen economy large. But what we see at the moment is, is two main routes for producing the hydrogen. One relies on fossil fuel resources and the other is green hydrogen. But a small proportion of the overall hydrogen in the economy is green right now, although that may rise. As you’ve looked at this, I know that you will to a certain degree rely on a network of providers and the overall evolution in the economy for that sector to mature. But do you see, I mean, the idea that we can create enough hydrogen using renewable sources in order to make a majority or all of the hydrogen for jet travel and jet use as well from green hydrogen, feels like that would be a big ask on renewables. Is that possible? And what do the numbers tell you about where that’s going and what we can hope for?
Val Miftakhov: [00:28:27] Yeah, and that’s a great question. And of course, it wouldn’t make sense for us to rely on dirty hydrogen produced from steam, methane reforming or other fossil fuels to only produce zero emission in the air. Really, all the economic models and business plan that we have all relies on green hydrogen production, predominantly through electrolysis. Okay. A renewable electricity going into electrolysis system, producing hydrogen.
[00:29:01] Similar example as nobody’s building new coal plants today. Yeah, right. Why? Because it’s not OK and not just because of the emissions, but it just is just not economical. Right. You don’t want to do it because, you know, it’s a waste of money. So we’re going to have the same kind of dynamics going on with hydrogen as fuel for aviation.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:29:27] What’s been truly inspirational about speaking to both Val and Peter and gives me a real sense of hope is that they’re both equally passionate and committed to a sustainable future for aviation. And even though they’re working on different solutions, which will take effect on different timescales, they’re both contributing right now in a real and tangible way to solving an incredibly complex problem. But just to bring us back down to earth for a second, the effect of COVID-19 still looms large. And who knows when the aviation sector will be able to run anything like full capacity again. So what? Knock on effects. Is this likely to have? And are we as passengers going to be boarding a plane to anywhere near the frequency we once did? One man who’s often asked to predict the future is former commercial airline pilot and partner at McKinsey and Company, Robin Riedel.
Robin Riedel: [00:30:19] I think the first question here is, you know, is this still top of mind for people? Right. If you remember last summer there was flygskam or flight shaming. There was a lot of attention on this. We saw airlines coming out was with a number of announcements to offset or to drive towards more sustainable flying. And then COVID hit and COVID hit this industry probably more than any other industry out there. I mean, we’re talking about revenue losses from 80 plus percent for the airlines. We’re talking about the bankruptcies. You know, about half of the airline fleet was grounded. And we’re not seeing a strong recovery yet either. And so the question we asked ourselves is, is this over now for sustainability? And airlines are going to be so focused on, you know, surviving that this cannot be a thought. And I was very heartened to see that actually it became a top of mind issue even more so than it was before. And that is for a couple of reasons. I think one reason is there’s some natural thinks that COVID accelerates. So fleet retirement right now that we’re only flying less than half of the fleet we used to you know, airlines are retiring some of the older aircraft that were gas guzzlers and less efficient.
[00:31:24] And so we’re getting a fleet renewal cycle in that is much faster than it would have been otherwise. So that is kind of a, you know, economic reason for doing it, but it helps the environment. So that’s a good start. I think. Secondly, I’m really heartened by seeing a number of leadership teams really putting sustainability top of the agenda, despite COVID and the way they think about it is saying COVID is a fantastic moment to reinvent ourselves and really drive a transformation of our business. And as we come out of this, we want to be stronger and better positioned. And what I found interesting is a number of these leaders consider getting sustainable, a license to operate for the future. They see on the horizon that unless they’re fixing some of the emissions problems of this industry, you know, they will eventually have to shrink or consumers will not come or regulators will step in with draconian regulation. And so this notion of being, you know, having a license to operate in the future has really taken hold in that group.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:32:19] Do you agree with that analysis? Do you think that risk is real in the way they think about?
Robin Riedel: [00:32:23] I certainly do. I think, you know, we’ve done a number of consumer work before the crisis hit, and it was pretty clear that consumers are getting much more worried about this. And this is not just a European thing. This is a global thing. They’re much, much more worried about it. They’re feeling bad about flying and they want governments to step in and they’re willing to pay more. I mean, our survey suggested that over 50 percent of the people that took the survey would be willing to pay somewhere between two and five percent more to, you know, to fly in a sustainable way. And if you think about what offsetting costs are, what biofuels cost, you’re not quite there, but you’re getting close in a way to that. And so those are kind of encouraging numbers.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:33:02] And two to five percent is that enough to really help transition the aviation sector? That doesn’t feel like it’s going to be enough for such a massive infrastructure change.
Robin Riedel: [00:33:10] Yeah, look, it’s a starting point, right? And I think for offsetting, you know, that can actually work. I think if you look at sustainable aviation fuels and the increase of fuel costs, that will be that’s not quite enough. But it’s only one source of funding. Right. I mean, if the consumers are willing to pay a little bit, you know, maybe the airlines are willing to pay a little bit, maybe the governments are stepping in and repurposing some of the taxes they’re getting from aviation fuel or other areas. You can see a pathway to making that work. The other the other interesting thing here is that corporate customers are getting very thoughtful about wanting to, you know, reduce their footprint. And so you see many, many large corporations making public announcements about reducing their footprint and really going to the airlines and negotiating with the airlines to say, listen, you need to find a pathway to make this happen because we’re no longer you know, we’re no longer willing to have that kind of a footprint for our travel. And, you know, we’re offsetting right now is what most of them say, but they want a better solution. And so you see a number of efforts. You know, there’s an effort in the World Economic Forum around this between different customers and airlines to find solutions that will allow the corporate customers to, you know, help get the biofuel industry off the ground and some of these new technologies. But I do think the you know, I do think the time of truly traditional aircraft by 2050 will hopefully be over. Now, I know that is a is a very, very kind of personal hope. And, you know, there’s a lot of assumptions that go with that. Right. And so, yes, it could perfectly well being that we still have a fleet around that flies on biofuels purely. But I you know, I personally think that technology will move on.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:34:49] Amazing. Now, we call this podcast Outrage + Optimism because we think both of those sort of human impulses are necessary to get us through this incredible transformation that we need. There’s a lot of outrage about flying, right? People really feel outrage and they feel very sort of outraged about each other flying. My question is for you are is that outrage justified? And do you feel optimistic about the fact that we will be able to continue flying without that outrage?
Robin Riedel: [00:35:15] Yeah, but look, it’s a great question and as a as a pilot and frequent traveler, I’m clearly biased on the answer. And look, I think that outrage to a degree is justified, just as it is outrage about, you know, other forms of carbon intensive behaviors that we have. Right. And so I do think as a world, we need to wake up to the footprint we have through traveling and flying, and need to take actions to counter it. Right. And again, I’m encouraged and heartened to see whether it’s the consumer side or the corporate customers or the airlines, you know, getting their head around this and actually taking actions into that direction. I think we will find a path where we can travel and explore other cultures and explore other countries and see our loved ones without the outrage. And I do think all the pathways we’ve discussed today are part of this. Bio-fuels will play a big part of that in the coming years and maybe in the longer run. I do think hydrogen combustion, hydrogen electric and some of the, you know, hybrid electric and battery electric models will matter as well. And I do think there’s a bright future for aviation where, you know, we can continue bringing people together and maybe even more so without the footprint. But it does take serious actions that we need to take. And that, you know, as I said, I see a path to getting there.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:49] So what a journey that’s been through the world of aviation, so many incredible pioneers that are really trying to blaze a trail towards what the next phase of aviation will look like. And I think, you know, incredible that there’s so much sort of unanimity of opinion around the fact that there needs to be such a quick change from the situation we are now to somewhere else. But still a lot of questions to be answered, really, in terms of what that next looks like. What do you think, Paul?
Paul Dickinson: [00:37:16] Well, I mean, it was it was really interesting to hear Peter talk about actually this. You know, consumers are moving more…You should call people citizens. Right. But citizens are moving more towards expecting to see, you know, low carbon, zero carbon offset, whatever with regard to air travel. And also, you know, we love this phrase, moving from a room called fear to a room called hope. But I also really liked the way there was a commitment by the company to change its mission to sort of focus on actually delivering a sustainable world. And, yeah, I mean, the final thing I’d say is just fascinating that the company is running around the world picking up cooking oil from all sorts of different countries and combining it in vast, you know, there’s like this parallel infrastructure. You know, yesterday’s waste is now tomorrow’s kind of, you know, renewable fuel. So that was pretty exciting.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:38:09] Yeah. I mean, I think that one thing it showed to me is that there is a path into the future for aviation. You know, I mean, it runs through multiple different technologies. And we need to be really careful of the infrastructure arc, what we’re building now and how long it will last. But, you know, I mean, one of the best things about the world is our ability for cultures to mix and to experience different places around the world. Now, it’s true that that privilege has not been spread evenly and that needs to be looked at. But it would also be a sadder world ready if that was not possible anymore. So I actually leave this episode quite optimistic around the fact that it may be more expensive. We may have to find ways to manage it. We may need to find ways to ensure that it is socially available to more people. But the technology can be there if we keep investing in it, to make some degree of aviation compatible with a one point five degree world. And I wasn’t sure we’d find that when we started, to be honest.
Paul Dickinson: [00:39:01] I mean, Robin was brilliant talking about, you know, little things like people being prepared to spend two to five percent more, you know, to fly in a sustainable way. But you challenged him on those numbers. Were they good enough? But I mean, I was stepping back a bit and I was thinking to myself, look, we are going to find ourselves with more expensive aviation for a while. And that’s that that additional money is going to be spent on driving innovation. And whether that’s going to result in us having lower cost aviation in the future is is it you know, nobody knows. But we’ve you know, we’ve gone through these incredible revolutions with solar energy, with wind energy, with renewable energy more generally. You know, it’s perfectly possible to believe that actually, you know, hydrocarbons aren’t actually the smartest way of running a plane. You know, I loved it, it was Bertrand Piccard who was saying that we we’ve done this evolutionary improvement in the basic fossil fuel powered airplane for a long time. But now we’re going into complete reinvention. And that’s incredibly exciting and anything’s possible.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:40:04] You know, one closing thought on that is that when I very first met you, Paul, when we first started working together in 2007, we were in New York and Bill Clinton came and spoke at the CDP launch, if you remember, I’m sure you remember it very well. And gave this incredible speech for 45 minutes about the importance of data and the importance of reporting and CDP. But he said at one point in that speech, I wonder if you remember, the one thing we can’t do with renewable energy is fly planes through the air for long distances at high speeds. And that seemed to be absolutely certain at that point. But I would say that that’s now changed.
Paul Dickinson: [00:40:38] Everything changes. I do remember that speech because after his 40 minute standing ovation or something, I stood up and delivered this kind of tumbleweed blowing through a very awkward moment in my career. But it’s OK. It’s not about me.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:40:52] I remember that speech too Paul.
Paul Dickinson: [00:40:54] I’m sure you do, for different reasons. I think we need to I think we need to focus on the prize. I think we need to recognize that humans are unbelievably smart. And, you know, whether we’re going across the Atlantic Ocean in a hydrogen powered plane or whether we’re going under the Atlantic Ocean at two thousand kilometres an hour in a vacuum tube train, they’re both perfectly possible. And it‘s going to happen. It’s going to be very exciting.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:41:21] Awesome. What a great investigation has been. It’s been such a different episode for us. We really hope you’ve enjoyed it. This has been a deep dive into this critical issue. And as we keep going with it, keep experimenting with Outrage + Optimism, how we can have the right conversations, how we can explore these key issues. We’re so grateful to our new partnership with Neste to make this episode possible. We hope you’ve enjoyed it.
[00:41:42] And we will be back with a regular episode next week. And we’ve got to tell you, we’ve got a pretty special guest. All right, it’s Prince William. Prince William will be here next week. Don’t miss it, See you.
Paul Dickinson: [00:42:02] Bye.
Clay Carnill: [00:42:06] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I’m Clay, a producer of the podcast. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoyed the first episode in our new four episode series. As Tom said, we’ll be releasing another episode just like this, exploring the future of transport in about a month or so. So be sure to hit subscribe so that you don’t miss it. OK, roll the credits. Outrage + Optimism is a global optimism production. Our executive producer is Marina Mansilla Hermann, and this episode was produced by Clay Carnill and Catherine Harte. Today, our team was described as a small but feisty bunch. But who is Global Optimism? It’s Sara Law, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Sophie McDonald, Freya Newman, Sarah Thomas, Sharon Johnson and Jon Ward. Our hosts are Tom Rivett-Carnac, Christiana Figueres and Paul Dickinson. And of course, thank you to our guests this week. Peter Vanacker, Val Miftakhov, Robin Riedel, Jonathan Porritt and Bertrand Piccard. So while this episode will end in about 60 seconds, the fun does not stop here. We’ve got a social media team curating and posting the incredible things happening in climate. So join the conversation. You can find us @GlobalOptimism on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you’re enjoying this podcast and you enjoy this episode, please give us a rating on Apple podcast and write us a review. We read every single one. OK, next week Prince William is in the house. You’re not going want to miss it. Hit subscribe. We’ll see you there on.