© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Visitors walk past a Gulfstream G650 aircraft during the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
By Joanna Plucinska
GENEVA (Reuters) – Europe’s business jet sector is putting its greenest foot forward at its flagship annual conference this week as it faces a downturn in flights on the back of commercial aviation’s rebound and growing pressure to become more sustainable.
The European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), hosted in Geneva, kicks off on Tuesday and brings together everyone from brokers, planemakers to engine producers.
Many have come under harsh scrutiny in Europe for their role in an industry seen as producing outsized emissions for global elites.
CO2 emissions from private jets in Europe grew by 31% between 2005 and 2019, according to environmental group Transport and Environment.
Pressure on the industry is increasing both from European regulators, who are keen to advance their green agenda, and also from activists who have targeted the sector in protests at airports, sector specialists said.
Protesters are expected to gather on Tuesday outside the conference location in Geneva to highlight the rising number of private jet flights amidst a worsening global climate crisis.
Consumers are also trying to limit their impact.
“You do see many more clients nowadays asking their operators, can I get sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), can we offer an offset in the flight,” said Roman Kok, a spokesperson for the European Business Aviation Association, one of the event organisers.
“There are more and more questions asked as to how sustainable their flights are.”
The conference will look to strike a positive note by showcasing innovations in the sector, with a particular focus on areas like electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and sustainable aviation fuel, which emits much less carbon than traditional jet fuel.
“The big innovations are usually deployed first in our industry,” Kok said. “And later, they are then deployed with larger commercial aviation. It’s the nature of our aircraft – they’re smaller, it’s easier.”
The sector has also been buffeted by Europe’s broader economic troubles, with many potential customers wary of spending money to buy or charter private jets, which are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.
“The post-COVID macroeconomic environment has significantly darkened: supply chain issues, inflation, higher interest rates, geopolitical conflict and tension,” said Richard Koe, CEO of WINGX, a market intelligence firm focused on business aviation.
Business jet flights have dropped in Europe by around 6% compared with the same time in 2022, WINGX data showed.
Immediately after the pandemic, business aviation rebounded faster than commercial air travel, swelling planemakers’ order books as more wealthy travelers flew on private jets to avoid crowded airports and connecting flights.
But rising interest rates and economic pressures are raising questions over continued demand for private planes, even as corporate aircraft makers boost production in 2023.
“You immediately see that when the economy doesn’t grow as much, there’s a parallel with our industry. So that’s for us the biggest indicator of why we’re not growing as we were in 2017, 2018,” Kok said.