Qantas’ 2050 zero-emissions nonsense

Woke? The only way Qantas can cut net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 is to cease operations. In what world does CEO Alan Joyce AC think he is somehow ahead of the aerospace technology curve? In any event, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be CEO in 2050.

Joyce said the Qantas and Jetstar will cap net emissions at their current level from next year, cutting it gradually over the next 30 years. A big pronouncement but by sheer virtue of upgrading an ageing fleet (phasing out 747 Jumbos) the efficiency targets are a walk in the park, not some tremendous virtuous milestone. Burning less fuel is good for the airline’s bottom line. Lower fuel burn means fewer emissions.

The ultimate irony is that aircraft manufacturers are doing their utmost to “carbonize” the fuselage and wings in order to save weight (Boeing 787, 777X, A350, A330). Even the next generation engines are featuring extensive use of carbon derivatives because of the fuel efficiency benefits that are created by them. Put simply, even in 2050 carbon and fossil fuel derivatives will be major source materials for future planes. Maybe in Joyce’s mind, that won’t count.

Aerospace technology is utterly amazing. To think that a 650t Airbus A380 can take off, fly 12 hours and land in complete comfort. Or that one fan blade on a 777 jet engine can theoretically suspend a locomotive from it without snapping such is the tensile strength. Now we can fly 19 hours nonstop. 30 years ago, half that distance was achievable.

Bio-fuels exist. However, if the airports across the globe don’t provide bio-fuels then his zero emissions pledge is shot. According to the IEA, aviation biofuel (aka sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)) is forecast to be 20% of all aviation fuel by 2040, from 5% in 2025.

The IEA stated,

SAF are currently more expensive than jet fuel, and this cost premium is a key barrier to their wider use. Fuel cost is the single largest overhead expense for airlines, accounting for 22% of direct costs on average, and covering a significant cost premium to utilise aviation biofuels is challenging…Subsidising the consumption of SAF envisaged in the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) in 2025, around 5% of total aviation jet fuel demand, would require about $6.5 billion of subsidy (based on closing a cost premium of USD 0.35 litre between HEFA-SPK and fossil jet kerosene at USD 70/bbl oil prices).

For commercial aviation to be a success, cost is always a factor. Great advancements like the Concorde died because of sustainable economics, not because of the accident. The vaunted Boeing Sonic Cruiser died at the concept stage because airlines couldn’t accept the commercial economics afforded by those higher speeds. So we have been stuck at 900km/h for decades and for decades to come.

Yes, there have been talks of electrically-powered planes (several developmental prototypes exist) but the technology to make them fly 10,000km at 900km/h with 300+ passengers on board won’t be met by 2050. Airbus intends to

make the technology available to fly a 100-passenger aircraft based on electric and hybrid-electric technology within the 2030s timeframe.”

Don’t buy into the malarkey that 10% of Qantas passengers carbon offset their travel. If one does the math, less than 3% of miles are actually covered by such virtue signalling. Either way, more than 90% don’t care to pay for their carbon offsets.

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