The European Parliament (EP) voted on Thursday to support the European Commission’s ReFuelEU Aviation proposal to introduce an obligation to uplift an increasing percentage of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for all flights leaving the bloc starting in 2025. However, it decided to change some of the commission’s text and endorse most of the amendments put forward by its Transport and Tourism Committee late last month.
Amendments to the European Commission’s draft rules include more ambitious blending levels, a higher sub-mandate for synthetic fuels, and the possibility to establish a flexibility mechanism—including elements of a book-and-claim system—to enable fuel suppliers to provide, and airlines to uplift, sustainable aviation fuels in the most cost-effective manner and to avoid imposing an “undue burden” on air transport operations at small airports or airports in remote parts of the EU.
The flexibility mechanism, which would remain in place for a transitional period of 10 years, would also prevent market players from abusing any possible dominant market position.
European Parliament members (MEPs) increased the commission’s original proposal for the minimum share of SAF made available at EU airports from 5 percent in 2030, 32 percent in 2040, and 63 percent for 2050 to 6 percent, 37 percent, and 85 percent, respectively. The blending obligation starts in 2025, with a SAF share of 2 percent. Thursday’s vote backs that level, but it sets a minimum share of 0.04 percent of synthetic fuels. The commission had foreseen the start of the e-fuel mandate only in 2030 with a gradual increase to 28 percent by 2050. MEPs want synthetic fuel to account for 50 percent of SAF in 2050.
In addition, the EP maintains that the legislation should not allow national governments to impose higher blending mandates than does the EU to avoid competitive distortions within the 27-state bloc.
MEPs also amended the proposed definition of SAF and take the view that refiners could use recycled carbon fuels produced from waste processing gas and exhaust gas derived from the production process in industrial installations as SAF feedstock. They also suggested that the SAF mix could include biofuels, produced from animal fats or distillates, until 2034.
The EU Parliament proposed the creation of a Sustainable Aviation Fund from 2023 to 2050 to accelerate the decarbonization of the aviation sector and support investment in sustainable aviation fuels, innovative aircraft propulsion technologies, and research for new engines. Penalties levied on aviation fuel suppliers failing to comply with the obligations to provide the minimum share SAFs would partly finance the fund.
MEPs also tasked the commission with developing by 2024, an EU labeling system on the environmental performance of aircraft, operators, and commercial flights.
“Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize,” commented Søren Gade, the EP rapporteur on the file. “Today we showed how to do this and sent a strong and ambitious signal to the citizens of Europe.”
Speaking during a debate ahead of the EP plenary vote in Strasbourg, France, Gade asserted that the commission had taken a good approach to increase the uptake of SAF but the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal was “not ambitious enough” for the EP. He acknowledged that national and political considerations, as well as ideological and economic interests, complicated reaching a compromise text. The Danish MEP waded through 278 pages containing more than 470 amendments, took into account the opinion of the Environment and Industry Committees, and found agreement among seven political parties. “Not everyone could be satisfied,” he admitted.
Today’s vote paves the way for the EP to start negotiations with the presidency of the Council of the EU, which represents the interests of the member states. European transport ministers adopted a common position on the ReFuelEU Aviation draft proposal on June 2.
The European Commission presented the ReFuelEU Aviation initiative—technically named “regulation on ensuring a level playing field for sustainable air transport”—in July 2021 as part of a wider package of proposals to make the EU’s climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. The Fit for 55 package for aviation also includes a contentious plan to tighten the EU emissions trading system and impose an EU-wide tax on aviation fuel.