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Aviation Climate Taskforce Will Fund Decarbonization Projects

Virgin Atlantic, which is one of the launch backers for the new Aviation Climate Taskforce, plans to fly a Boeing 787 from London to New York in what it says will be the first transatlantic commercial flight running on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. (Image: Virgin Atlantic Airways)

Ten global airlines have joined forces with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to raise funding for research and development work on technology for cutting air transport carbon emissions. The charitable non-profit Aviation Climate Taskforce (ACT), which intends to tap public, private, and philanthropic sources of capital, has been launched by the following carriers in partnership with BCG: Air Canada, Air France-KLM, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

According to chief executive Tom Light, ACT aims to build a global innovation network distributing grants to fund R&D work that might not otherwise attract venture capital funding, as well as a forum for industry collaboration to scale adoption of emissions-reduction technology. It aims to get started by issuing approximately $2 million in grants in the first half of 2023 and will also be inviting other aviation leaders from around the world to join the group, which has been launched with an undisclosed amount of private funding.

“The challenge right now is that if you want things like green hydrogen and power-to-liquid synthetic fuels to be ready for use on a wider scale by 2030, then we need to acknowledge that many of these projects are not yet ready for private investment, and we must help get these ready in the next three to five years,” Light told AIN. “About half of the technologies we need aren’t invented yet or they are stuck in a lab. The future of aviation requires a huge amount of investment, so our mission is to fund world-class research that de-risks technology, getting it out of the technological death valley and into the higher technology readiness levels to attract institutional funding as soon as possible.”

As it starts work assessing worthy recipients of its funding, the ACT team is using a proprietary network mapping tool provided by BCG. “As we try to expand the pipeline [of decarbonizing] ideas, we’ll have a different risk tolerance than corporate R&D teams,” said Daniel Matuszak, the new group’s chief technology officer. ACT intends to operate in its efforts to raise and distribute funding.

From his base in the San Francisco Bay Area, Light is looking to connect with well-funded Silicon Valley charitable foundations that he says are looking for new ways to invest in work focused on addressing the climate change crisis. Matuszak is based in the UK.

Light indicated that ACT likely will not be directly involved in lobbying efforts around decarbonizing aviation, viewing this as work already being addressed by airline associations and other industry groups. “We want to be very lean, with at least 70 percent of our funding going to technology R&D,” he concluded. “The industry is at a capitulation point in terms of the need to address climate change as we see competitors turn into collaborators to achieve a network effect in an industry that is generally known for its cut-throat competition.”

Last week, Virgin Atlantic announced plans to conduct what it said will be the first net-zero transatlantic flight with an aircraft running solely on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. That flight will use one of the carrier's Boeing 787 wide bodies powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines and will operate from London Heathrow Airport to New York John F. Kennedy Airport sometime before the end of 2023. The project will receive up to £1 million ($1.2 million) in financial support from the UK's Department for Transport.

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