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Interview: ICF’s Kata Cserep on the future of transport

Recognised as one of the ‘Top 40 Under 40’ aviation professionals in the world, Cserep shares insight on the next 20 years of travel

As vice president and global managing director of Aviation, Travel and Tourism for ICF, Kata Cserep leads a team of industry experts and analysts, adept at interrogating large and complex data sets to reveal insights on global aviation, serving clients in government, the private sector, the investment community and industry associations. In 2019, Kata was recognised by Airline Economics as one of the ‘Top 40 Under 40’ aviation professionals globally. Here, she talks with Connecting Travel about the future of transport, highlighting potential new and alternate modes of transport and how sustainability will shape not only the transport industry but also how we live.

CONNECTING TRAVEL: Fast-forward to the 2040s – what major changes will have taken place in the aviation industry by then?
KATA CSEREP: Small electric aircraft will be in service serving short-haul sectors. Hydrogen aircraft will have started to enter service. Small VTOL (vertical take-off and landing aircraft) will carry individuals on short journeys, such as to and from airports.

Current electric aircraft are mostly one- or two-seater demonstrators, either fixed wing or vertical take-off. Due to the existing battery technology most of these aircraft are restricted to less than 50 minutes’ flight time or approximately 150 miles. However, a number of manufacturers have designs, mock-ups and early-stage demonstrators that are expected to have ranges around 400 miles with seating for up to 19.

It’s likely that the initial market will be chartered flights, such as air taxis, but there are a few airlines setting up trials with OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for short haul scheduled service

There are also larger, long-range hybrid electric aircraft in development, and while over time we expect battery technology and charging infrastructure to support faster charging as well as longer journeys, full electric aircraft are not expected to serve long-haul segments in coming decades. For these segments, hydrogen fuelled aircraft or SAF drop-in fuels are the most imminent.

CT: Will emerging modes of transport, such as cruise or rail, make an impact on the transport sector in the Middle East?
KS: A substantial share of the Middle East’s aviation economy is predicated on connecting origin and destination points over medium to very large hubs, taking advantage of modern infrastructure, plentiful connections, and the hubs’ geographic location between East and West. In this segment, rail and cruise are unlikely to make a dent, since they serve rather different origin and destination (O&D) or short haul passenger needs. That’s not to say they cannot and will not grow – and we see that recently opened rail lines are already impacting freight flows, but they’re unlikely to compete significantly with air travel in the next decade.

CT: The aviation industry is meant to be moving towards a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is one of the suggested strategies for sustainability, but currently less than 0.1% of aviation fuel consumed today is SAF). Why is that?
KS: The disconnect between production costs and airline ability to pay is at the heart of the production shortfall. We’re certainly seeing progress, particularly in markets such as California, where incentives make production and off taking economically viable.

The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a market-based programme that focuses specifically on reducing carbon intensity (CI) of fuels used within California. It was created in 2011 by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and essentially works through a system of credits and deficits for ‘cleaner’ (lower CI) and ‘dirtier’ (higher CI) than the CARB-set target.

The reason this is primarily an example to airlines globally is that it illustrates how policymakers can shape the development of an infant industry and can accelerate take-up of much more costly fuels or technologies through the use of well-designed incentive structures.

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CT: Beyond using SAF, what are the most effective ways for airlines to reduce their impact on the environment now and in the future?
KS: Operating the most modern and efficient aircraft and flying the most direct routings are two other main components, although the latter is typically at the mercy of governments and air traffic control.

Other measures include reducing cabin weight by introducing lighter seats and blankets, and digital instead of paper in-flight magazines, etc. Also, across the value chain, encouraging ground handlers to use electric GSE (ground support equipment) when renegotiating contracts, for example, exploring single engine taxi or taxibot operations, using ground power over APUs, renewable electricity to power offices.

While these small measures such as reducing cabin weight may have a smaller incremental impact, it can be implemented now to make a difference

CT: Do you think that removing carbon dioxide the best way to offset?
KS: Direct air capture and storage is the permanent removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climeworks is one the providers of this emerging technology, which promises to remove rather than avoid or offset CO2 emissions. The price point for offsetting versus removal, and other solutions in between (such as purchasing SAF certificates, for example) will vary hugely, according to the technology, the project and the volumes purchased, so the ‘best’ solution may be very different for an individual than an entire city or corporation.

These emerging new technologies are certainly exciting, and show promise, but it should be acknowledged that for now they are very small scale – even smaller than the SAF industry relative to total aviation fuel – and they require very substantial investment and scale-up, before they can make a real dent on transport emissions. While that happens, there remains a place for more traditional but still high quality carbon offsets for more efficient or lower greenhouse gas-emitting technologies, or demand reduction.

CT: What will be the outcome if the aviation industry doesn’t adopt sustainable practices?
KS: All being well, future generations will be able to enjoy the freedom to travel by air as the last two generations have, and social and economic connections will continue to be supported by aviation, but without the continued unsustainable burden on the environment effected by fossil fuel propulsion technologies. Otherwise, we risk moving backwards globally.

ICF’s Kata Cserep will join Connecting Travel Editorial Director Sarah Hedley Hymers on the Global Stage at Arabian Travel Market 2022 to further discuss the future of aviation at 12pm on Tuesday 10 May 2022. All ATM visitors are welcome to join the audience. For more information, visit www.wtm.com/atm

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