Sustainable Aviation Futures North America Congress Keynote Remarks

Assistant Administrator for Policy, International Affairs and Environment Laurence S. Wildgoose (January 1, 2021 - present)

The U.S. vision for achieving net zero emissions for aviation and the FAA’s role.

Good morning, San Francisco! It feels so good to get out of Washington, DC and to be here live and in person. 

It’s also good to have such a wide-ranging group of stakeholders for what I hope will be a big step toward making aviation more sustainable. 

Each of you symbolizes an important part of my role that I’m passionate about.  

Thanks to Sustainable Aviation Futures for organizing this week’s event and thanks to Jamie [Dowswell] for the kind invitation.

Look, I know that it’s early, and I’m almost sure that you all are probably still on your first cup of coffee…I see a few heads nodding. 

So, I’ll try not to take too long. 

But, as my esteemed colleague, Prem Lobo, mentioned in the previous session, climate change is one of the most defining challenges of our time.

Tackling climate change is a top priority of the Biden-Harris administration, and that fits well with the FAA’s long-standing leadership on reducing emissions and facilitating a more sustainable aviation sector.

On day one in office, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, restored U.S. leadership on the world stage, and reestablished our position to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.

Under President Biden’s leadership, we are putting the U.S. on a pathway to net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.

I have said this before, and I will say it again today: the FAA is committed to making aviation greener for the future by taking actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.

We’re also laser-focused on enhancing safety, equity, and developing a workforce that is fit for purpose – today and in the years to come.
I would like to begin by highlighting several actions that the FAA – and other federal agencies – are taking as it pertains to sustainable aviation … my hope is that you are familiar with several of the major components:

  • The U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan;
  • The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which is being co-led by the Departments of Transportation, Energy and Agriculture to dramatically accelerate the use of SAF;
  • The Inflation Reduction Act, which is the most aggressive legislative action on tackling the climate crisis in American history; 
  • The FAA-led FAST-SAF and FAST-Tech grant programs;
  • The FAA’s ongoing efforts to improve air traffic and airport efficiency to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure, and ensure cleaner air in and around airports; and, most recently;
  • The outcomes from the 41st International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) General Assembly in Montreal just a few months ago. 

Don’t worry – I am going to talk about all these actions in my remarks, but I want to start with the Climate Action Plan, because it really ties everything together.

A little more than one year ago, the FAA published the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan, which, for the first time, established a national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. aviation sector by 2050. 

The FAA got to work, and we conducted detailed analyses to understand what it would take for aviation to reach net-zero emissions … we also spent a lot of time working with our partners across the federal government to understand what could be done to reduce aviation emissions, and what it would take to decarbonize aviation. 

The U.S. Climate Action Plan is underpinned by a forecast of future emissions from the U.S. aviation sector and the potential means for reducing emissions toward the net zero goal.

Looking at the chart, on the left side, in blue, you see historical emissions from the year 2000. 

In the middle, there is a solid green line that shows the dip in emissions associated with the pandemic.

Looking to the right side, the dotted red line sloping upward shows the forecast growth in emissions.

So, we looked carefully at what opportunities there are to reduce emissions. These include:

  • Regular aircraft replacement and fleet renewal;
  • New, more efficient technologies;
  • More efficient operations; and
  • The use of sustainable aviation fuels.

Our analysis shows that a full set of measures are needed to achieve the net-zero goal, but it also underscores the important role of SAF.

SAF can be created from renewable or waste materials, and thus, have significant potential to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

As many of you know, SAF are “drop-in” fuels, meaning that they can be safely used in existing airplanes and engines. 

They do not require the development of new aircraft technology or infrastructure… and that’s the beauty of it.

The FAA, alongside Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, are co-leading the U.S. government’s SAF Grand Challenge, focusing federal efforts to enable a dramatic expansion of domestic SAF production to three (3) billion gallons per year by the end of the decade, which is in line with industry goals, and 35 billion gallons per year by 2050 … that would be enough SAF to meet 100% of projected domestic jet fuel demand. 

In line with the SAF Grand Challenge, in September 2021, we awarded more than $100 million for companies to help develop technologies that reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise Program, better known as CLEEN.

CLEEN is a public-private partnership that began in 2010 and is a key part our overall strategy to tackle the global challenge of climate change and lower the impact aviation has on communities. The program requires the companies receiving the contracts to match or exceed the FAA’s investment, bringing the total to at least $200 million over a five-year period.

In September 2022, the SAF Grand Challenge roadmap was released, and it outlines a whole-of-government approach with coordinated federal policies and activities to support industry in achieving both the 2030 and 2050 goals of the SAF Grand Challenge. 

This roadmap ensures alignment of government and industry actions and coordinates government policies to achieve the goals of the SAF Grand Challenge. 

The roadmap lays out six action areas spanning all activities with the potential to impact the SAF Grand Challenge objectives of (1) expanding SAF supply and end use, (2) reducing the cost of SAF, and (3) enhancing the sustainability of SAF. These action areas are: 

  • Feedstock Innovation;  
  • Conversion Technology Innovation; 
  • Building Supply Chains; 
  • Policy and Valuation Analysis;
  • Enabling End Use; and 
  • Communicating Progress and Building Support.

Now, I know the end of this decade is literally right around the corner.

Given the limited time—less than eight years—to meet the 2030 goal, and considering the time required for SAF production infrastructure to be built, the path to meeting the 2030 goals requires an immediate focus on commercially ready conversion technologies and feedstocks. 

But meeting the 2050 goals will require simultaneous investment that enables innovations in future SAF technology.

The U.S. government affirms, across multiple agencies, its commitment to SAF research, development, and deployment to realize substantial emissions reductions through SAF use. 

The roadmap is a plan for continuing, long-term, and substantial assistance and action, which will lead to cleaner skies, continued economic growth, and good-paying jobs.

The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act [in August 2022] has provided new incentive programs to encourage development and deployment of SAF.

DOT and the FAA are helping lead a U.S.-government-wide effort to reduce costs, increase sustainability, and expand production of sustainable fuels. 

The Inflation Reduction Act demonstrates President Biden’s leadership to tackle climate change.  

The legislation establishes a new tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel. 

To qualify for the $1.25 per gallon tax credit, SAF must have a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction of at least 50%, with supplementary credit of $0.01 applied for each percent reduction beyond 50% with a maximum total tax credit of $1.75 per gallon. 

Not only does the Inflation Reduction Act include a brand-new tax credit for SAF, it also created a new $300 million dollar grant program for SAF and low emissions technology, called the Alternative Fuel and Low-Emission Aviation Technology Program.   

The legislation includes more than $240 million dollars in funding for projects related to the production, transportation, blending or storage of SAF; more than $46 million dollars for low-emission aviation technology projects and nearly $6 million dollars for the grant award program.

We are well underway in developing a new grant program – Fueling Aviation’s Sustainable Transition, or  FAST, with elements focused on SAF, to be termed FAST-SAF, and elements focused on low-emission aviation technologies, to be termed FAST-Tech. 

The grant program will incentivize SAF production and use, while creating good-paying domestic jobs and economic opportunities for farmers, manufacturers, start-ups, and others in the sustainable aviation fuel supply chain.

We cannot achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without a combined effort from the entire private sector – including feedstock and fuel producers, supply chain participants, manufacturers, air carriers, corporations who fly, and members of the flying public. 

The FAA continues to improve air traffic and airport efficiency to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure, and ensure cleaner air in and around airports.

In April, the FAA teamed up with airports across the country to launch the Airport Climate Challenge to help achieve the administration’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The FAA also announced it will develop a tool for airports to voluntarily estimate, track and report on the emissions reduction achieved when implementing projects supported by the airport programs. 

Today, at 27 hub airports around the nation, we’re implementing new software that calculates the best time for airplanes to push back from the gate, so they can roll right to the runway. Less time waiting to taxi means less fuel burn and emissions.

The actions outlined in the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan also puts us on a course to reduce the impacts of noise and air quality on airport communities… 

For instance, we were informed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that the government needed to join forces with the general aviation sector to remove lead from aviation gasoline, nationwide. 

In February 2022, the FAA established a partnership with industry to form “EAGLE,” which stands for: Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions.  

The goal of EAGLE is to eliminate leaded fuels from aviation by the end of 2030, without adversely impacting the safe and efficient operation of the existing general aviation fleet. 

Airports can take advantage of several FAA funding programs to help us meet this goal, including grants for low or zero-emissions vehicles, renewable energy production, energy assessments and other efforts.

We anticipate releasing funding opportunities in the coming months, outlining eligible projects in these areas.  

Our microgrid program is one example of emerging technologies that can help airports capture more energy generated on site. 

It also increases the sustainability of their operations by utilizing battery storage technologies to enhance the effectiveness of renewable energy resources. 

Through the FAA’s energy efficiency and sustainability programs, we can help plant the seeds for future greenhouse gas emission reductions. 

We also recognize the concerns regarding noise and other adverse effects on airport communities – we are committed to working with our stakeholders, including local communities – like right here in San Francisco, as we find ways to address them. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the one-year anniversary of the passage of the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or BIL, as we call it. 

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the most significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure in American history. 

BIL is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize our country’s transportation infrastructure, and it includes approximately $25 billion dollars in funds for the National Airspace System. 

Through BIL, we’re funding climate resiliency and sustainability initiatives that airports may not normally consider under the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program. 

More specifically, the BIL’s Airport Terminal Program funds projects that improve energy efficiency, including upgrading environmental systems, upgrading plant facilities, and achieving L-E-E-D accreditation standards.  

In July, we announced nearly $1 billion in BIL funding that will go to 85 airports across the country to improve terminals of all sizes. The grants expand capacity at our nation’s airport terminals, increase energy efficiency, promote competition, and provide greater accessibility for individuals with disabilities. 

We will continue working with airports across the country, big and small – urban and rural, to ensure we positively transform our airports for the future. 

As much as we are doing domestically, we are committed to working with our international stakeholders.

At the 41st ICAO General Assembly earlier this year, we saw significant progress in taking steps to address aviation’s climate footprint.

Supported by nearly every ICAO member state, ICAO set a long-term aspirational goal to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. 

This agreement sends a strong signal to private investment that decarbonizing aviation is a good choice.

The ICAO Assembly also saw member states agree to strengthen ICAO’s offsetting measure—CORSIA. 

Combined with setting the long-term goal, CORSIA reinforces the need to decarbonize our industry.

We see these outcomes at ICAO as supporting and complementing the work we do domestically. 

Aviation is an industry that crosses borders.

What we do here at home is critical, but it is also important that countries come together to collaborate and share best practices and lessons learned.

The FAA will continue to work with other countries and with industry to facilitate a more sustainable future for aviation.  
What I am describing is obviously incredibly ambitious, the climate action plan lays out a strategic vision for how we can decarbonize aviation, and I know it will take all of us working together – none of us can do it alone.

However, achieving this vision will not only help the environment; it will also bring considerable economic benefits in both the aviation and energy sectors. 

Further, it will ensure the continued leadership of the United States in this incredibly important aviation industry. 

We are looking for partners everywhere, and I look forward to identifying ways we can all work together. 

I’ll end by saying this about the future of aviation and aerospace—fasten your seatbelts! 

It is coming; it is transformative; and we’re thrilled to be on the leading edge.

Thank you again for the kind invitation, and I hope you all enjoy the rest of your day.