By Joanna Plucinska
GENEVA (Reuters) -Europe’s business jet sector is putting its greenest foot forward at its flagship annual conference this week as it faces a downturn in flights on the back of commercial aviation’s rebound and growing pressure to become more sustainable.
The European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), hosted in Geneva, kicks off on Tuesday, bringing together everyone from brokers and planemakers to engine producers.
Many have come under harsh scrutiny in Europe for their role in an industry seen as producing outsized emissions for global elites.
“Flying a private jet is one of the worst things you can do for the climate,” said Jo Dardenne, aviation director at green advocacy group Transport and Environment.
CO2 emissions from private jets in Europe grew by 31% between 2005 and 2019, the organization has said.
Pressure on the industry is increasing both from European regulators, who are keen to advance their green agenda, and also from activists who have targeted the sector in protests at airports, sector specialists said.
“Business jet bashing has been a bit of a sport in Europe,” said Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation.
Protesters are expected to gather on Tuesday outside the conference location in Geneva to highlight the rising number of private jet flights amidst a worsening global climate crisis.
Consumers are also trying to limit their impact.
“You do see many more clients nowadays asking their operators, can I get sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), can we offer an offset in the flight,” said Roman Kok, a spokesperson for the European Business Aviation Association.
The conference will look to strike a positive note by showcasing innovations in the sector, with a particular focus on areas like electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and sustainable aviation fuel, which emits much less carbon than traditional jet fuel.
While many jetmakers are using SAF to propel their test flights, they are struggling with low supply of the fuel, said CEOs on a pre-conference Monday panel focused on sustainability in the sector.
“We need regulators to push for more SAF availability,” said Eric Martel, the CEO of Canadian business jet maker Bombardier Inc.
The sector has also been buffeted by Europe’s broader economic troubles, with many potential customers wary of spending money to buy or charter private jets, which are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.
“The post-COVID macroeconomic environment has significantly darkened: supply chain issues, inflation, higher interest rates, geopolitical conflict and tension,” said Richard Koe, CEO of WINGX, a market intelligence firm focused on business aviation.
Immediately after the pandemic business aviation rebounded faster than commercial air travel, swelling planemakers’ order books as more wealthy travelers flew on private jets to avoid crowded airports and connecting flights.
But supply chain issues and worries over the economic environment have dragged into this year.
Business jet flights have dropped in Europe by around 6% compared with the same time in 2022, WINGX data showed, and planemakers are still scrambling for parts as supply shortages continue to weigh.
Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream Aerospace, said supplies for mechanical systems were particularly hard to come by, adding that the issues could still continue for some time.
“I think we’ll struggle throughout the industry for the next six to nine months,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal. Editing by Jane Merriman and Jan Harvey)