Business Aviation Operators Aim For SAF Boost 

Credit: Neste

From business jet owners to commercial airlines, Europe’s aviation industry knows it needs to cut its carbon footprint, but while sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is—in theory—the easiest way to do that in the short term, scarcity of the alternative fuel is a big problem.

Producers are ramping up production—albeit not as quickly as operators would like—and progress in European SAF legislation should help that effort.

IATA calculations show that at least 300 million liters of SAF were produced in 2022, which is a 200% increase on 2021’s 100 million liters. More optimistic calculations put that total production last year at as much as 450 million liters.   

But that’s far from enough. With SAF set to account for about 65% of carbon dioxide abatement across the broader industry through 2050, according to IATA, 450 billion liters of SAF would be needed. 

In the business aviation sector, many companies are looking at innovative ways to spur progress on SAF. Partnerships play an important role for producers, operators and brokers alike. 

“We’re seeing just over 20% of our customers voluntarily purchase sustainable aviation fuel, Neste SAF, when they booked their private jet charter with Victor, which on average is just over €1,000,” says Toby Edwards, co-CEO of on-demand jet charter platform Victor, which launched a partnership with SAF producer Neste in June 2022.  

Neste is already the world’s biggest producer of SAF and is increasing SAF production from 100,000 tons in 2022 to 1.5 million tons (around 1.875 billion litres) annually by 2024.  

At Neste’s Singapore site, a €1.5 billion ($1.45 billion) investment is increasing capacity to 1 million tons of SAF per year from Q1 2023. It is also expanding at its Rotterdam site, where a further €1.9 billion investment should see production capacity of an extra 700,000 tons of SAF set to be in place by 2026. That expansion is proceeding well, Neste said in April.  

Last year, Neste signed a partnership agreement with fixed-base operator network Signature Aviation to expand the availability of Neste SAF to all of its locations in California.  

Neste is seeing an increase in interest from the business aviation sector similar to that observed in commercial aviation, a spokesperson for the fuel producer says—a phenomenon also observed by Victor. Customers booking a private jet through the platform make use of a slider to decide how much SAF to pay for.  

“Typically they are replacing 30% of the fossil fuel with sustainable aviation fuel. Since launching we’ve seen a private jet booking with Neste SAF on average every single working day,” Edwards says.   

“The blending rates are almost irrelevant,” Edwards says. “What’s relevant is the emissions reduction is in-sector. It’s how much SAF you’re buying that’s important as opposed to it being in your plane or not.”  

Customers choose how much SAF to pay for when booking their flight and each month that booking data is passed on to Neste. The fuel producer then delivers the corresponding amount of SAF to Helsinki Airport, where it is uplifted on to a commercial flight—typically Finnair, but Etihad has also taken part.  

Once the flight has landed, the certification process begins, and customers receive a certificate showing how much SAF they bought, on which flight it was used and how much greenhouse gas emissions it saved—meaning it is aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative and can be used for Scope 3 reporting. 

Edwards sees raising awareness of SAF as a decarbonization solution as a key benefit of the partnership, and interest is growing within the business aviation sector. The company wants one in four customers to be buying SAF by the end of the year, up from one in five today.  

“Encouragingly, we’re seeing demand from ultra-high-net-worth individuals even if they’re not using the receipt,” Edwards adds.  

At a broader European level, blending mandates are expected to be a useful tool to drive the much-needed production increases. Momentum is building for more SAF production, albeit not as quickly as operators would like.  

Last month, lawmakers in Brussels finally reached an agreement on the long-awaited ReFuelEU legislation, part of the Fit for 55 environmental package aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. This is seen as a positive step, providing clarity on how much SAF will be needed—which industry players hope will filter through into more investment in production facilities.  

From 2025, all flights departing from a European Union airport will be obliged to uplift a minimum share of SAF, starting at 2% in 2025, rising to 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 34% in 2040, 42% in 2045 and eventually reaching 70% by 2050. The targets also include a synthetic fuel mandate of 1.2% between 2030 and 2031, 2% between 2032 and 2035 and 5% from 2035—an increase compared to the European Commission’s original proposal of an e-fuels mandate starting at 0.7%.    

“As our supply grows, more and more will find its way into business aviation,” says Keith Sawyer, manager of alternative fuels at U.S.-based aviation fuel supply specialist Avfuel Corporation, which has partnerships in place for SAF supply, including with Neste. 

“Our volume is increasing two-fold every year roughly within our supply agreement with Neste,” Sawyer says.  

The Neste partnership allows Avfuel to offer customers a SAF blend that sits between 28-35%. And demand is growing, including from corporate flight departments that want to fuel their business jet fleets more sustainably.  

“There isn’t a week that goes by when we’re not talking to a new Fortune 500 company about the supply of SAF,” Sawyer says.  

Big names in business aviation—including Embraer, Dassault and Textron—will be using Neste SAF supplied by Avfuel to fly their aircraft to Geneva, Sawyer notes. 

Other big players are also investing in SAF. Oleo-X, a producer of renewable fuel feedstocks, launched its SAF and renewable diesel feedstock pre-treatment facility in Mississippi earlier this month, with a production target of more than 200 million gal. per year by around the end of 2023 or start of 2024.

“Investments and corresponding aviation commitments are enabling the continued growth of SAF,” says a spokesperson for Oleo-X.  

Alternative fuels specialist Velocys’ projects are focused on commercial aviation, but demonstrate an intensifying momentum in the SAF sphere. In Immingham, England, the company is working in partnership with British Airways on a waste-to-SAF project that will transform municipal and commercial solid waste otherwise destined for landfill or incineration into 20 million gal. per year of SAF.  

The company was awarded £27 million ($34 million) in UK government funding last year for the site and said earlier this month it had been able to access the first tranche of that funding, as well as securing its first funding from private backers.

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.