by Paul Willis:  The world’s three biggest makers of passenger planes have put aside commercial rivalries and agreed to work together with governments and biofuel producers to promote and speed up the availability of jet fuels that reduce carbon emissions.Airbus, Boeing and the Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer signed an agreement in Geneva this week at the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) Aviation and Environment Summit.


image via Boeing

The memorandum of understanding was signed by the CEOs of Airbus and Boeing and by the head of Embraer’s commercial aviation arm.

“There are times to compete and there are times to cooperate,” Jim Albaugh, Boeing CEO, said in a statement released after the meeting. “Two of the biggest threats to our industry are the price of oil and the impact of commercial air travel on our environment. By working with Airbus and Embraer on sustainable biofuels, we can accelerate their availability and reduce our industry’s impacts on the planet we share.”

The agreement between the top three aircraft makers comes as the airline industry faces renewed pressure to reduce its CO2 emissions.

A new EU law that took effect in January makes it obligatory for airlines flying in and out of Europe to purchase carbon permits to offset their emissions. The measure has stoked a potential trade war with the United States, China and India—the top three carbon emitters—questioning the EU’s legal jurisdiction to charge for flights.

Many airlines have already taken the first steps to converting to biofuels.

Aviation regulators approved the use of biofuels last summer. Shortly afterwards, KLM Royal Dutch became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight with the environmentally friendly fuels. Last November, Continental Airlines took the prize for the first revenue passenger trip in the U.S. powered by biofuels with a domestic flight between Houston and Chicago.

Even so, the airline industry has a long way to go if it is to reach the ambitious goals it has set itself—carbon-neutral growth beyond 2020 and halving industry emissions by 2050 based on 2005 levels.

Airbus CEO Tom Enders said the industry had done a lot already to reduce its CO2 footprint, managing only a three percent increase in fuel consumption in the last ten years in spite of a 45 percent growth in traffic.


image via Boeing

“The production and use of sustainable quantities of aviation biofuels is key to meeting our industry’s ambitious CO2 reduction targets,” Enders said, “and we are helping to do this through research and technology, our expanding network of worldwide value chains and supporting the EU commission towards its target of four percent of biofuel for aviation by 2020.”

“Having these three aviation leaders set aside their competitive differences and work together in support of biofuel development, underscores the importance and focus the industry is placing on sustainable practices,” said Paul Steele, ATAG Executive Director.