Industry veteran and advocate for sustainability Nick Houseman, and Welojets CEO Martín Baldoma Jones, provide their thoughts on the environmental challenge and the messaging surrounding it
There remains a perception outside the industry that business and VIP aviation operators and owners really don’t care about their carbon emissions. Conversely, the message on the inside is that sustainability is high on everyone’s agenda and achieving carbon-neutral flying sooner rather than later is the mutual goal. But away from tradeshow announcements and press releases, does the everyday business aviation user really care? Is sustainability more than just a message?
Nick Houseman owner and President at ZenithJet, co-founder of Azzera and co-owner at Elit’Avia, says: “There seem to be three groups of owners and users. The first is offsetting emissions and wants to use SAF; they also recognise there is a significant public relations issue. You see it a lot in Europe because EU ETS has owners thinking about it in terms of measurement and what it means. In the biggest market, the US, there’s no requirement to measure or comply, so you see owners who want to do something about sustainability, who understand the PR and may have a corporate strategy of which the business jet is just a part. Second, there are owners and users who want to address their emissions and don’t know what to do and, finally, there are those who don’t consider it their problem.
“I think the latter group will get smaller in time as more solutions become available and it becomes easier to reduce. Eventually I believe sustainability will be as fundamental as insurance.”
For now, Houseman says the challenge is that aviation is difficult to decarbonise. The best way is to stop flying, but that defeats the industry’s purpose. “SAF costs significantly more than regular fuel and it’s not widely available. Book and claim is an option, but I think people are coming to the realisation that SAF is not a short-term solution, and that leaves carbon offsetting.”
Houseman is perhaps uniquely qualified to speak about carbon offset. Through Elit’Avia he understands the operational challenges of global business jet flying, while ZenithJet recently added an emissions calculator tool to the technical services it offers. The complexities of how those emissions might then be countered led Houseman to co-found Azzera, a company dedicated to providing sustainability solutions through carefully curated offset.
In response to those commentators critical of offset, those who believe it is little more than greenwashing, he says: “It’s a solution that allows people to do something about their emissions today. But we need a lot more projects and they need funding, that’s the challenge in the voluntary offset market. With offsetting, clients can decide what types of project they’d like to support but with EU ETS, for example, you’re essentially buying credits from the government and relying on them to do the right thing.”
Clients do have the opportunity to choose their offset projects, but further criticism has been levelled at the system, suggesting that the ‘quality’ of offsets differs between projects. In response, Houseman states: “It goes beyond the environmental impact, it’s about the vintage of the offset, is it in the past or the future? Does it impact the local community? How permanent is the offsetting? There are lots of factors to take into account. At Azzera, we have a group that solely examines the offsets we offer, rating each based on what they provide. The challenge is to ensure projects produce the offsets they promise, and there is a much heavier focus in the market now to ensure that’s the case.”
Martín Baldoma Jones, co-founder, and CEO of Welojets, which has offices in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Miami, considers the challenge of tackling sustainability and managing the messaging around it purely from an operator’s perspective. Aware of the public perception of his industry, he says: “We don’t shy away from talking about sustainability. Having an opinion, sharing it and being open to debate, is the first step toward finding a solution. Although the aviation sector accounts for only 2.4% of global carbon emissions – and private aviation for only 0.04% of that – it has been an easy target for those vying for harsher sustainability measures. And I agree, it’s easy to criticise when private jets fly empty and for very short periods of time.”
While Welojets supports efforts towards expanding the use and availability of SAF, it is looking to electric aviation for a solution to the problem of inefficient short-range jet flights. “We decided to put our words into action by partnering with Electra after signing a letter of intent for 32 eSTOL aircraft,” Baldoma Jones says. “Our objective is to evolve as a global leader in private aviation’s push toward air mobility solutions, but while this is a defining milestone for us, we understand that it will take a multi-layered approach to tackle sustainability as an industry.”
He also acknowledges that the public’s expectations toward a company’s commitment to sustainability are growing. “They want to understand what actions are being taken to reduce emissions while we work towards net zero emissions in the near future. The best way to send this message is by working together as an industry – authorities, manufacturers, operators, brokers and consumers.”
It is a sentiment Nick Houseman echoes: “I don’t think we do a great job of describing what’s happening. I believe the focus on SAF is positive, but I don’t see it making a significant difference in the short term. We aren’t going to stop flying, so the industry as a whole needs to use carbon offsetting as a part of the answer. We need to embrace it and not because there’s nothing else to be done. It brings a lot of value; owners and operators can choose their projects and make a narrative out of it.
“That’s what we need to do as an industry: make a narrative over sustainability. Putting our heads in the sand and hoping the criticism moves on is not the way forward. We need to blow our own trumpet.”