It is a pioneering project: The initial CO2-neutral long-haul flight in commercial air transport since the first plane ever took the skies, and the forerunner happens to be a freight airline of all things: Lufthansa Cargo. Together with project partner DB Schenker, it flew a fully loaded Boeing 777F from Frankfurt to Shanghai on Sunday 29NOV20, which is now (early Monday morning) expected to be making its way back to Frankfurt again via Hong Kong.
With this activity, the companies have made a clear stance. Or, as CEO Peter Gerber of Lufthansa Cargo said in his address to selected guests and media representatives on Frankfurt Airport’s
apron: "Flying 100% CO2 is a milestone!" The use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which does not harm the climate, is also a strong message to the outside world, he emphasized. It
shows the industry and the general public that air freight transportation not only connects continents, markets, and people, but can also be sustainable.
Well-known shippers are on board
In his brief speech, DB Schenker boss Jochen Thewes emphasized that this flight demonstrated that air freight is much further along than is generally known. However, the sustainability principle will only work if customers participate and bear the additional costs for SAF compared to fossil fuel. In the case of the Shanghai flight, those customers were Siemens Healthineers, a leading manufacturer of medical technology, and chemical and pharmaceutical producer Merck KGaA. In booking larger volumes, both companies have clearly supported the project.
Expensive SAF will become cheaper, says DB Schenker
For this, they were ready to dig deep into their pockets as a price comparison shows. For example, one liter of SAF currently costs around €4, while airlines only have to pay around €0,20 for the same amount of conventional kerosene. A huge price difference, DB Schenker boss Thewes admitted. However, he pointed out that with increasing demand for SAF and higher production, economies of scale would occur, leading to a significant reduction in costs. Ultimately, it will depend on whether the economy is willing to move towards converting to sustainability in transport and is prepared to pay a higher price in the long term. "At DB Schenker, we are," he assured, as he signed a "Green Charter" with Peter Gerber, Lufthansa Chief Commercial Officer Dorothea von Boxberg, and other managers from both companies. Both parties thus commit themselves to operating one Lufthansa Cargo long-haul flight per week exclusively with SAF, starting from the summer flight schedule 2021. In other words, flying freight completely climate-neutral on intercontinental routes.
Calculatory Climate Neutrality
Were General Electric, Rolls Royce, or other engine manufacturers to read this commitment, they would throw their hands in the air and loudly warn of the high risks involved in using pure SAF. Yet, they need not worry because, of course, the celebrated "CO²-neutral" circular route FRA-PVG-HKG-FRA of the Boeing 777F from Lufthansa Cargo is not really completely climate-neutral.
Why not is illustrated by DB Schenker helmsman Thewes: "We bought 175 tons of SAF, which is exactly the same as the consumption of this flight. However, the fuel is included in the supplier's total quantity, mixed in with fossil kerosene, and is thus distributed among many tank operations." This excludes risks but, in terms of consumption, corresponds to the quantity that the two engines of the B777F burn on their Shanghai circuit. If you look at the overall picture, the flight is climate-neutral purely on a calculatory basis.
Aside from these calculations, both Gerber and Thewes delivered an important message that the action was a visible sign of sustainability in air transport. They hope for imitation effects, so that one day a global sustainability avalanche will develop from the small snowball that was launched at their event in Frankfurt last Friday.
In this context, Ms. von Boxberg pointed out that Lufthansa Cargo in particular feels committed to the United Nations' sustainability goals, such as "no poverty," "clean water and sanitation", or "carbon footprint reduction" and "climate action". In order to visualize these, a work of art composed of 37 sea freight containers was recently erected and is on display at the Lufthansa Cargo area on the Frankfurt airport site. It was created by Leon Loewentraut and is modeled on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, which has survived many a disaster and is now a symbol of freedom following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
The visual analogy is no coincidence: the containerized Brandenburg Gate can also be interpreted as a symbol of hope, of directional change in environmental policy, and towards sustainability.
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