By Joanna Plosinska
GENEVA (Reuters) – Europe’s business jet sector is putting its greener foot forward at its main annual conference this week as it faces a decline in flights on the back of a boom in commercial aviation and mounting pressure to become more sustainable.
The European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE), hosted in Geneva, kicks off on Tuesday and brings together everyone from brokers and aircraft makers to engine producers.
Many of them have come under intense scrutiny in Europe for their role in an industry seen as producing huge emissions for global elites.
Carbon dioxide emissions from private jets in Europe grew by 31% between 2005 and 2019, according to the Transport and Environment group.
Industry professionals said pressure is mounting on the industry from European regulators, who are keen to advance their green agenda, as well as from activists who have targeted the sector in airport protests.
Protesters are expected to gather on Tuesday outside the conference site in Geneva to highlight the growing number of private jet flights amid the worsening global climate crisis.
Consumers are also trying to limit their influence.
“You see many customers nowadays asking their operators, can I have sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), can we offer compensation in flight,” said Roman Cook, spokesperson for the European Business Aviation Federation, one of the organizers of the event. .
“There are more and more questions being asked about the sustainability of their flights.”
The conference will look to strike a positive note by showcasing innovations in the sector, with a particular focus on areas such as electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and sustainable aviation fuel, which emits far less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel.
“Big innovations are usually deployed first in our industry,” Cook said. “And then, they’re deployed with larger commercial aviation. It’s the nature of our aircraft — it’s smaller, it’s easier.”
The sector has also suffered from broader economic problems in Europe, where many potential customers are wary of spending money to buy or lease private jets, which are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.
“The post-COVID macro environment has darkened dramatically: supply chain issues, inflation, rising interest rates, geopolitical conflict and tension,” said Richard Kuo, CEO of WINGX, a market intelligence firm focused on business aviation.
WINGX data showed that business jet flights in Europe decreased by about 6% compared to the same period in 2022.
Immediately after the pandemic, business aviation rebounded faster than commercial air travel, swelling planemakers’ order books as more affluent travelers flew on private jets to avoid crowded airports and connecting flights.
But rising interest rates and economic pressures raise questions about continued demand for private jets, even as planemakers ramp up production in 2023.
“You see right away that when the economy isn’t growing that much, there’s a parallel to our industry. And that’s for us the biggest indicator of why we’re not growing as much as we were in 2017 and 2018,” Cook said.
(Reporting by Alison Lambert in Montreal; Editing by Jane Merriman)