Aviation plays a critical role in our global economy, and is a key facilitator and enabler of business, trade, travel, and tourism. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that the sector supports 87.7 million jobs globally and contributes $3.5 trillion to global GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

However, the sector has a significant impact on the environment. It accounts for c.2-3% of global CO2 emissions – a figure that likely understates its overall share of environmental impact, once the effect of other non-CO2 emissions are taken into account, as well as the greater radiative forcing associated with higher-altitude emissions.

To meet this CO2 challenge, in October 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) committed to the long-term goal of achieving Net Zero emissions for international aviation by 2050. Achieving this goal will require the aviation sector to undergo a significant, sustainable transformation.

Whilst there is no one single answer to decarbonising the aviation sector, the successful acceleration and scale deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a necessary, critical – but alone, insufficient – element of the solution. It will be the largest single contributor to delivering ICAO’s 2050 decarbonisation goal. 

However, delivering SAF at scale is not without challenges. SAF production is significantly subscale relative to sectoral targets, it is expensive to produce, and the lower-cost production pathways exhibit significant constraints related to global feedstocks, whilst more-scalable pathways are at a lower Technology Readiness Level and yet higher cost.

To address these challenges, L.E.K. has authored a detailed and richly evidenced report that clarifies the central role that SAF will play in the future of aviation, sets out the key challenges that must be overcome, and offers insight for all value-chain participants on the roles that they will need to play to accelerate and deliver a clean future for the global aviation sector.

  • Whilst there is no single solution, SAF is the critical lever for decarbonising the aviation sector today, to 2050, and beyond

  • The unit cost of SAF is likely to remain >2x the cost of kerosene to 2050

  • In aggregate, SAF will cost c.3.5-5.5 trillion dollars more than a kerosene-only future

  • Airline customers can pay for it, whilst delivering an aviation sector that can grow with renewed social licence

  • But action is required from all aviation stakeholders – now – for the sector to meet its environmental goals

L.E.K. Consulting is a registered trademark of L.E.K. Consulting. All other products and brands mentioned in this document are properties of their respective owners. © 2023 L.E.K. Consulting

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