Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is widely considered one of the most exciting innovations in the climate change technology space and already airlines are starting to fly passenger flights using the fuel.
But what does this mean for the distribution, marketing and sales of airline products? How should airlines using SAF – and intermediaries selling their inventory – adapt air products to appeal to B2B buyers and end travellers with this in mind? And will this start to happen soon?
We spoke to a range of experts throughout the aviation value chain to find out what they thought and discover some of the challenges our industry will face in making the much-needed transition.
Alice Ferrari from aviation technology provider Kyte agrees that SAF is becoming a reality we need to be prepared for: “The increasing availability and affordability of alternative fuels such as synthetic kerosene made from biomass or renewable electricity are major industry trends currently reshaping the airline sector towards greater sustainability. From a back-office admin, measurement and accounting perspective though this brings new challenges for airlines and the aviation technology industry needs to respond to that need quickly. There’s potentially a revenue management opportunity here too, charging people extra to pay for their share of the SAF flying the plane and with NDC it will be easier to give consumers that option to make this conscious choice – even if they aren’t booking directly via an airline’s website or mobile app”.
Adding to this Emilie Dumont from Digitrips, the owner of leading French multi-product travel platform MisterFly, confirms that “we are closely monitoring the evolution of practices related to the use of SAF. As an intermediary, our role is to inform clients transparently and enable them to make the most suitable choice based on their expectations. Many companies have committed policies regarding the use of SAF, and we hope that the proportion of SAF in flights will be incorporated into CO2 calculators as quickly as possible with greater clarity from scientists and airlines. It’s still the early days, really.”
Agreeing with this, Matthew Chapman from Vibe – a provider of travel booking technology to intermediaries including both for the leisure space and for travel management companies (TMCs) – adds that: “Three key trends are driving forward the use of SAFs as a viable alternative to traditional jet fuels: rising public interest in green initiatives generally, larger corporations being forced to report on their carbon impact to shareholders and other stakeholders, and increasingly stringent government regulations for emissions from commercial aircrafts. As a result we’re seeing the TMCs in particular asking us for data about SAF but we’re still some way from being able to provide that in any standardized, regular reporting format – anyone with a solution to this right now reach out to me please.”
Meanwhile Christian Sabbagh from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) group Travelsoft – owner of distribution platforms such as Traffics, Orchestra and Travel Compositor – believes that “despite significant advances in SAF over the last few years and the promise of more exciting improvements to come, the general public really aren’t familiar enough with these changes. That’s partly a communication issue and an education and awareness program will be necessary, with travel agencies and tour operators being a great means to achieve that as well as stakeholders to consult with. But it is a technology challenge too: few are ready for this yet. The number of intermediaries complicates this further and so direct connectivity solutions will, besides the economic advantages, be better at solving this problem once standardized information and metrics exist – thus giving those with direct connect links a considerable advantage airlines will be able to market hard.”
Cheap flights aggregator and travel subscription service WayAway recently surveyed its 24,000 followers on Instagram to ask if they’d rather fly using SAF and an impressive 73% responded that they would. But before SAF becomes more widely adopted, its spokesperson Janis Dzenis reminds us that “the implementation of significant SAF options on most flights is still some way off and there’s no clear plan for how we´ll be able to market that, but in the meantime we must remain committed to other means of introducing sustainability into the whole travel experience, including other aspects of flying such as what’s done on the ground, food and beverage, and so on – as well as at the hotel, in the destination generally and so on.”