The pandemic shut down most business travel and while it is starting to rebound, many companies are rethinking their corporate travel policies in response to increasing awareness of the need to act on climate goals, Amelia DeLuca, Delta’s Vice President of Sustainability, said in an interview.

“The ask here, essentially, to our business travel community is to understand that there's a solution available now. There is no reason to stop flying,” DeLuca said in an interview with Joel Makower, Editor of Greenbiz.com. “If you're looking to hit your own internal emission-reductions targets, sustainable aviation fuel is there for you. Get in the game now with us because we also want our corporations to be with us to help figure out how we engage on this as we move forward.”

Delta has made sustainability a key part of its business strategy. The Atlanta, Georgia-based carrier committed in 2012 to capping its emissions at that year’s level, then pledged in 2020 to be carbon neutral. SAF is a key part of that strategy, DeLuca said, noting that Delta will begin taking delivery of more than 303 million litres (80 million gallons) of SAF in 2024, compared to 11 million litres (3 million gallons) a year now.

The power of partnerships

Investors are putting increased pressure on airlines and other corporations to take meaningful steps towards net-zero emissions, DeLuca said, noting that the aviation industry is keen to partner with other stakeholders since a reduction in an airline’s Scope 1 emissions – meaning those stemming directly from its core business – amount to reductions in the Scope 3 emissions that cover those caused by travel for other companies.

“It's a win-win situation,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca highlighted a partnership Delta struck with Deloitte in February 2021 under which the global consulting firm became one of the first corporate customers to buy SAF through Delta to help offset its business-travel emissions. Such partnerships will help narrow the price premium over conventional jet fuel, DeLuca said.

“Partnerships involve us looking across our supply chain and saying, okay, we want to sit with you and walk this journey together. We want to be your thought partner. We want to be your investor in some instances. We want to raise the ambition together. Because if we get out of sync, that's when I think we're going to see investors and other parts of our stakeholder group start to lose confidence in us as an industry,” DeLuca said.

SAF: A safe bet for sustainability today

Encouragingly, DeLuca said investors have already been pouring money into SAF startups, a sign of confidence that this is a business ready for takeoff and not some unproven technology.

“I think the technology is there. It's working today. It's blending into our infrastructure today. And next-generation technologies will just make that able to be produced either in greater quantities or more cheaply, or perhaps both,” DeLuca said.

Echoing others in the industry, DeLuca said more policy support such as a tax credit on par with that for other biofuels, is needed to help close the price gap further.

“In the journey forward, sustainable aviation fuel is the most critical thing that we have to achieve our joint efforts between an airline and that corporation who's trying to reduce their business travel emissions,” she said. “But it's price-prohibitive not only for us as a company but for many customers who would like to purchase it,” she said. “Government policy is critical at this point.”

Making Aviation More Sustainable: A Conversation with Amelia DeLuca

Flightpath host, Joel Makower, recently spoke with Amelia DeLuca, Managing Director of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, to discuss the urgent need to decarbonize aviation and how Delta has made sustainability an integral part of its business strategy.

Watch: the role of business travelers in making aviation more sustainable

Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, explains how business travelers and corporations will play a crucial role in helping the aviation industry become more sustainable by clearly understanding their emissions footprint from flying and then partnering with airlines to reduce that impact.

Watch: How can aviation usher in a “low emissions age”?

The aviation industry is running out of time to deploy carbon-mitigation tools, such as sustainable aviation fuel, and consumers are increasingly demanding that airlines take action today. David Hone, Shell’s top climate adviser has warned that the short window in which to act poses a risk that the sector will fail to hit its goal to halve CO2 emissions by 2050 relative to 2005.

Watch: Nature’s role in tackling aviation emissions

Airlines are feeling pressure to curb CO2 emissions today. Until sustainable fuel and technology solutions are deployed to help avoid and reduce emissions directly, the industry will also need comprehensive carbon offset programmes if it is to meet its net emissions reduction targets. The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Webb points to airlines’ opportunity to benefit from the most effective carbon sink “technology” available today: nature itself.

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