As the aviation industry focuses on recovery from the effects of COVID-19, it must continue its efforts to deliver a sustainable future for the industry, according to the head of Shell Aviation.

“Today our priority remains to work with our customers on the recovery from COVID-19,” Shell Aviation President Anna Mascolo said. “ It is very clear is that society, individuals, and companies also feel an obligation to make sure that we look at long-term targets and ambitions like sustainability.”

“Funnily enough, even for a sector so significantly taken back by this crisis, it feels that we are ready to accelerate the sustainability transition,” Mascolo said in a recent interview with to discuss key issues facing the industry with Joel Makower, Executive Editor of GreenBiz Group.

After the pandemic grounded most of the world’s passenger aircraft, the aviation industry has focused on returning to the skies safely and efficiently. Nonetheless, airlines face mounting pressure from corporate customers, governments, and the public to address their carbon footprint. The aviation industry remains committed to halving CO2 emissions from international flights by 2050 relative to 2005 levels. But that remains a daunting target.

All parties, all measures

There is no simple solution to this challenge. Much as international agencies, local governments, and businesses teamed up to fight the pandemic, the transition to sustainable aviation requires multiple parties to work together to adopt a wide variety of measures. Those include scaling up production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), boosting operational efficiencies, adopting nature-based carbon offsets, and investing in entirely new technologies, Mascolo said.

“We need to look at the whole ecosystem; airlines, producers, logistics providers, manufacturers airports government, regulators. Everybody needs to play a role, because the challenge is too big to be tackled by one single company on its own,” Mascolo said.

Ultimately, the industry needs to move to sustainable fuels and, eventually, carbon-free ones such as hydrogen, Mascolo said. Using SAF at scale means overcoming a range of challenges, like ensuring that feedstock crops for SAF are themselves sustainable and building out infrastructure to produce and deliver SAF to customers.

Mascolo pointed to Shell’s recent deal with Amazon Inc. to supply the online retail giant’s cargo aviation operations with up to six million gallons of SAF as an example of the kind of high-profile commitment needed to build confidence and momentum in sustainable fuels. Yet such deals are just the start and hurdles must be addressed.

While SAF is considered a “drop in” fuel, Mascolo added that “the reality is that, given where production sits and where the airports are, there is a logistical piece that still needs to happen. You need pipelines that can transport SAF, blending facilities, and quality assurance, and that is a different set up from traditional jet fuels.”

Fueling the next century of flight

For over 100 years, Shell has collaborated with aviators and visionaries to overcome challenges and enable progress. This spirit of collaboration and problem solving will be crucial to securing the benefit of flight for the next century.

“In the short term, we will keep on working with our customers on the recovery from COVID and doing so safely,” Mascolo said. “Where we want to go one step further, however, is to be the catalyst for change in the next generation, where the industry moves together to tackle sustainability. ”We want to see investment in existing solutions like reforestation projects and future technologies like hydrogen-powered flight, all while driving collaboration throughout the industry, Mascolo said.

“This is a global challenge that needs everybody to move at the same time,” Mascolo said. “That's where I compare it to the pandemic response, where everybody had to move and is moving in the same direction, with some actionable insights and ideas to move forward.”

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.

Watch: What will it take to scale sustainable aviation fuel?

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the aviation industry hard. But as airlines chart a path to recovery, part of their return must include reducing the industry’s contribution to climate change. Bryan Sherbacow, Chief Commercial Officer of biofuel producer World Energy, discusses what it will take to help sustainable aviation fuel scale to the point where it will be competitive with conventional jet fuel.

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: Aviation faces inflection point as climate challenge looms

Recently, our Flightpath host, Joel Makower, sat down with Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, to discuss how the industry’s course to recovery must also track toward a more sustainable future. Read about their Q&A about the role of sustainable aviation fuels and why the industry must work together to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.