Some airlines, including the Spanish low-cost airline Vueling, offer their passengers the opportunity to spend on so-called SAF fuels, which the industry advertises as particularly sustainable, when booking flights. In the previous year, around 100,000 passengers are said to have opted for this IAG subsidiary.
A few months before the corona pandemic, the term “flight shame” was coined by the German media due to the appearances of Greta Thunberg, among other things. Many mass media claim that passengers would be ashamed that they would use the airplane, which is said to be so climate-damaging as a means of transport. The passenger numbers of 2018 and 2019 spoke a completely different language, but the media hype unfortunately also meant that some politicians felt under pressure and hastily increased ticket taxes during the pandemic ha good. This is what happened in Austria, for example.
Smack of “greenwashing”
Possibilities to wash away the alleged « flight shame » have existed for many years. Shortly before the flight booking is completed, many airlines offer the option of making a donation to climate protection projects and/or the purchase of SAF fuel. The Lufthansa Group even goes one step further and still offers so-called green fares with integrated compensation or SAF. Despite the carrier’s cheering reports, the product is only very weakly accepted by the market. The reasons for this can be very different, but there is probably a lack of transparency among all providers as to what actually happens with the money and the fact that many can no longer hear the « climate issue » due to years of almost daily media bombing. The activities of the climate stickers could have further reduced the willingness to « greenwash » in many people.
For decades, it was a matter of course in both road traffic and aviation that combustion drives were used. The oil lobby in particular was also very interested in the fact that alternatives could not gain a foothold. There were cars with electric drives as early as the stone age of the automobile, but combustion engines are catching on. Apart from environmentalists, no one crowed how many pollutants a car trip to the supermarket across the street or a flight to Mallorca emits. To this day, many people don’t care, or they feel downright annoyed by climate stickers and constant media chatter.
Alternative drives were “not an issue” for a long time
It is a fact that the aviation industry, like other sectors, had no interest whatsoever in alternative drives for decades. Apart from short-term peaks, the kerosene was mostly cheap and the technology has proven itself. You can’t make up for the omissions of many, many years overnight. Efforts are being made to get aircraft that have electric drives, for example, or that burn hydrogen in the air, as quickly as possible, but it can still take a long time. The white man in the industry trying to present itself as « green ». By the way, you are not the only one with the latter, because one of the largest heating oil dealers in Austria seriously claims that they would sell carbon dioxide-free and therefore climate-neutral heating oil. From a purely physical point of view, of course, this is bullshit to the power of three and greenwashing in its purest form. The SAF fuels, which are used as a temporary solution in aviation, are not only very expensive, they are by no means carbon dioxide-free. During combustion in the engines, this continues to be a “waste product”.
SAF’s approach is different. Fuels will be made from materials such as biomass that have previously bound carbon dioxide. To put it simply: Man will not bring the legacies of the dinosaurs into the atmosphere, but rather renewable energy sources, which ideally have previously bound carbon dioxide themselves in their formation process. Alternative possibilities are the extraction from old cooking fats or so-called e-fuels. In the latter case, carbon dioxide is to be removed from the atmosphere, which is then processed into fuel in a complex process. Which technology is ultimately more environmentally friendly or will prevail is still completely open.
But one thing is clear: SAF is much more expensive than conventional kerosene and in order to get a ton of “sustainable aviation fuel” a lot of energy has to be used beforehand. Here the manufacturers then rely on solar, wind and water power, because it would be absurd if, for example, electricity from brown coal were to be used, as is the case in many countries with electrified railway lines. However, except: Similar to private households, no one, self-producers, can check whether the currently used kilowatt hour actually comes from a wind margin or from coal power or nuclear energy. The suppliers have to show certificates, but that gives a little indication: Suppose you have only ordered green energy, but the neighbor has ordered a normal product, which is often an energy mix. However, the local power grid is primarily fed by a gas-fired power plant, so that it is extremely questionable whether wind power is actually being obtained at this moment or whether the labeling is not rather for billing purposes between the suppliers or. electricity producers tooth. A « normal customer » can’t check that anyway and real transparency looks different anyway.
Arithmetically two percent SAF thanks to donations from passengers
Coming back to Vueling, the company claims that the spending of around 100,000 passengers made through Exolum last year meant that it could have mathematically added 2% SAF on the day of the booked flight. Furthermore, one raises that Vueling doubles the donation amount out of their own pocket, so that four percent SAF would be used. Mathematically because passengers cannot check it anyway and at many airports the fuel suppliers do not yet offer SAF.
“Since the launch of the SAF contribution, Vueling has continued to offer competitive prices while creating a way to reduce the environmental impact of flying and support the transition to carbon-neutral and more sustainable transport.” However, there is still a lot to be done, because we must accelerate SAF production if we want to meet the demand of the industry in the short and medium term, » says Vueling Sustainability Director Franc Sanmarti.
Passengers aged 65+ spend very rarely
The low-cost airline also states that the use of SAF has saved emissions equivalent to around 15 return flights between Paris-Orly and London-Gatwick. In 2022, a total of 145 tons of SAF were tanked.
Regarding donors, Vueling reports that around 51 per cent of customers were between the ages of 34 and 64. 40 percent are said to have been younger than 34 years and only nine percent of the age group 65+ would have decided on SAF donations. From this it can be deduced that older passengers show little interest in the topic or that the distribution channels for this group of people may have been made too complicated. The bottom line is that only a few Vueling passengers have decided to donate to SAF anyway. You are not an isolated case, but are in the best of company with the situation that also prevails with competitors.
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