CERAWEEK-Return of business travel, sustainable fuels expected in aviation’s future – Successful Farming

By Laura Sanicola

March 1 (Reuters) – International business travel is not
expected to remain permanently depressed, though it will likely
recover from the coronavirus pandemic at a slower rate than
leisure travel, United Airlines Chief Executive Scott
Kirby said on Monday during CERAWeek by IHS Markit.

Business travel was a key area of growth for the airline
industry prior to last year’s onset of the coronavirus pandemic,
which sapped demand for all transportation fuels worldwide.

Fears that business travel will never return are unfounded,
Kirby said during the virtual energy conference, arguing that
while some companies may try to reduce business travel to cut
costs, they will run up against competition who are willing to
fly.

“The first time they lose a sale to a competitor who showed
up in person while they tried to do a sales call over Zoom, will
be the last time they try to do a sales call on Zoom,” Kirby
said.

Volumes for jet fuel, while lagging behind gasoline and
diesel, will “probably restore itself more or less back to
normal by the second half of this year,” Ben Van Beurden, CEO of
Royal Dutch Shell, also said on the panel.

Both CEOs also spoke on the role of sustainable fuels as
part of the aviation industry’s role in cutting emissions to
reach net zero carbon by 2050, a theme of this year’s CERAWeek
oil and gas conference.

Reducing emissions “is a moral imperative for a company who
wants to remain on the right side of history,” and also provides
a business opportunity, Van Beurden said, adding that he expects
Shell to be a major player in biofuels.

Earlier in the conference, keynote speaker, investor and
philanthropist Bill Gates noted that lower-carbon fuels to power
aircrafts costs three times as much than traditional
petroleum-based jet fuel.

United Airlines’ fleet will likely need a combination of
sustainable fuels that could be sourced from municipal solid
waste, industrial gases and algae, though only the latter may be
scalable, according to Kirby.

“Algae’s tough, the science exists but getting it to be
economic and work is really difficult. I don’t think there’s an
answer yet,” Kirby said.

(Reporting by Laura Sanicola
Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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