As sustainable aviation prepares to fly again, what is the outlook for Saudi Arabia-China relations? – Middle East Monitor

The global aviation market is gearing up to fly again. Technavio – a UK-based market research company – expects the global aviation fuel market to increase by $44.77 billion between 2021 and 2026. It also forecasts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.29% credited to favorable government policies. Aviation biofuels are noted by the company as one of the most important products in the market, indicating the demand for renewable energy sources in the aviation industry. This political intervention in the industry was apparent and necessary for two reasons: the post-pandemic economic rehabilitation of the aviation sector and environmental concerns.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a global economic recession, caused a severe reduction in air travel due to coronavirus restrictions and led to loss of passenger confidence. The International Civil Aviation Council noted a 60% loss in traffic from 4.5 (2019) to 2.7 (2020) billion passengers. The high-risk aviation sector is already facing funding challenges and China’s zero Covid restrictions have weakened demand for fuel, further slowing the economy. Still, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, seems optimistic about a rebound in air transport despite the war in Ukraine and restrictions in China.

As the airline industry rebounds, it must address the concerns of those who lament the carbon emissions from the sector. Research and development in green technology has yet to find solutions beyond the sustainable low-carbon aviation fuels (SAF) that the industry currently relies on. To enable effective decarbonization, these green energy solutions must be sustainable, available and open to transition. Cleantech entrepreneurs such as Val Miftakhov and others identify zero-emission hydrogen and electric aircraft as one of the popular motor fuel research areas. Transporting and storing hydrogen for use as fuel without compromising the cost per available seat mile is an ongoing challenge. Bobby Sethi, an associate professor at Cranfield University in Britain, argues for the clean burning of hydrogen, such that hydrogen burning technology would produce 90% less of the smog-causing chemical than kerosene. However, even if this green technology develops further, the transition to wider use depends on reducing costs. Just like most renewable technologies, the capital expenditure is higher, but the low operational expenditure lowers the cost of production. The cost can be further reduced by increasing production, making green technologies widely available and thus facilitating the transition.

Beyond fuel needs, other forms of renewable energy that can power airport infrastructure and the aviation ecosystem as a whole should not be overlooked. An energy audit can help identify aspects of an airport that should be transferred to green technology, but terminal lighting, air conditioning, auxiliary power units and runway lighting, etc., typically consume energy. energy that can be powered by renewable and sustainable sources.

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Demand for clean energy is already growing, with environmental watchdogs forcing governments and private companies to address sustainability concerns, with the former taking on relatively more responsibility as major players in global politics. The World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition project recommends such an international effort to shift to sustainable aviation. While once considered too expensive, the costs of renewable energy have fallen over the years due to government subsidies, growing concern for man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. . Solar energy is a good example; it started at $378 on average to generate one megawatt-hour of electricity in 2010, but eventually dropped to $68 in 2019.

Sustainability is not just a Western concern. The General Authority of Civil Aviation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosted the first Future Aviation Forum from May 9-11 and looked at how to deal with these pandemic-induced economic setbacks and the impact of human-induced global warming in the aviation sector. The event in Riyadh brought together governments, private companies and key players in the aviation industry with the aim of rebuilding the industry both better and cleaner; promote international cooperation; to avert the threat of future losses to the aviation ecosystem; and to support the Kingdom’s economy as part of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030. The Kingdom has identified the “air industry” and “sustainability” as strategic content pillars. Liberalizing market access can remedy the economic downturn. As a result, Saudi Arabia is set to privatize 25 of its companies aiming to increase passenger numbers from 100 million to 300 million, a daunting but crucial challenge.

A comparison of the Kingdom’s plans for the aviation sector and China’s relevance as the largest aviation market, but also as a world leader in renewable energy technologies, reveals the potential for a flourishing energy and economic partnership. The biggest oil producer and biggest oil importer already share strong economic ties, but the Kingdom seems to be aware of the mortality of long-term oil policy as resources are depleted and the transition to the renewable energy becomes essential. , Saudi Arabia must ensure that its relevance does not dissipate. In the civil air transport sector, a bilateral agreement is already in place to realize the potential, and with the launch of the Future Aviation Forum by Riyadh, it looks like the potential will be further realized, aided by the Civil Aviation Administration Chinese. What Saudi Arabia aspires to achieve, China has already done and continues to thrive. This gives China the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum as it grows.

Initially, the equation will not be green in essence, despite environmental claims, due to economic interests. The Kingdom will continue to rely heavily on oil to maximize its gains under Vision 2030 and China will increase its carbon emissions until 2030, before going to net zero by 2060. In either case, the assertion is that it will get worse before it gets better. And given their track record, eco-friendly businesses must have the ability to thrive around the world for Saudi Arabia and China to care about the environment.

China will increase its capabilities and capabilities as a global cleantech provider, as will its current leadership in solar energy. Besides research and development and technology, China’s importance as an aviation market is impossible to ignore, as is China’s pursuit to become energy secure and gain a manufacturing monopoly in renewable energies. So, as all the key players in the aviation ecosystem attempt to rebuild and transition sustainably, China’s contribution to achieving this goal will be indispensable, whether for the post-Covid rebound air transport or a possible green transition, whether with Saudi Arabia or all global air operators as a whole. If the new buzzword is “sustainability” and the test is to research and develop renewable energy, then China is likely to pass with flying colors.

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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