The European Parliament last week passed a law that will require aircraft flying in and out of European Union (EU) airports in 2050 to use at least 70% sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The parliament passed the law on September 13 as part of its Fit for 55 package.

Under the new law, known as the RefuelEU aviation rules, from 2025, EU airports and fuel suppliers must ensure that 2% of the fuel supplied is SAF. This ratio will increase every five years - 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 34% in 2040, 42% in 2045 and 70% in 2050. Additionally, a specific proportion of the fuel mix (1.2% in 2030, 2% in 2032, 5% in 2035, progressively reaching 35% in 2050) must comprise synthetic fuels like e-kerosene.

Five hundred and eighteen parliamentarians voted in favour of the new law, 97 voted against, and eight abstained. Parliamentary rapporteur José Ramón Bauzá Díaz called the new law a "tremendous step" towards the decarbonisation of aviation. "It is now time for EU governments to implement the new rules and support the industry to ensure the cost-effective deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuels across Europe as well as meeting EU targets. There is no time to lose."

The Air France-KLM Group says its welcomes the European Parliament's move. "The adoption marks a milestone that will further decarbonize the industry and will contribute to the use of SAF in Europe," a spokesperson told ch-aviation. "Fully committed to decarbonizing its business, the Group has already made ambitious commitments to sustainable aviation fuels, going beyond the incorporation mandates set out in RefuelEU."

The spokesperson also said the regulatory framework surrounding decarbonization and sustainable fuels needs to factor in the challenges of fair competition to avoid the risks of transfer of traffic to European hubs outside the EU not subject to these regulations, and carbon leakage.

Low-cost carrier Ryanair (FR, Dublin International) takes a similar stance. "Ryanair believes using SAFs is the most realistic and effective method for aviation to reduce emissions in the coming decades. We welcome the European Parliament's decision to adopt SAF mandates under the ReFuelEU regulation, which will apply to all flights departing a Union airport and follow the 'polluter pays' principle," their spokesperson said, adding that the airline is committed to 12.5% SAF use by 2030. However, Ryanair's spokesperson also said that barriers to producing significant quantities of SAF, including limited feedstock availability, uncompetitive pricing, and a lengthy certification process, need to be overcome.

Under the new law, SAFs include synthetic fuels, certain biofuels produced from agricultural or forestry residues, algae, bio-waste, used cooking oil or certain animal fats. Hydrogen and fuel produced from used cooking oil also makes the grade. Excluded from the SAF list are feed and food crop-based fuels and fuels derived from palm and soy materials.

Pending approval by the European Council, the new rules will apply as of January 1, 2024, and some provisions as of January 1, 2025.