Sustainable flying

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Yvonne Moynihan, corporate and ESG officer of Wizz Air, describes why the airline is adopting new strategies to become cleaner and greener

Can you introduce yourself and outline to our readers your role within the company?
As the corporate and ESG officer of Wizz Air, along with leading legal, regulatory, corporate and government affairs areas, I oversee Wizz Air’s ESG function and sustainability strategy.
The role is multifaceted and has become a bridge between profitability and purpose.
At Wizz Air we are committed to environmental stewardship through nurturing sustainable and affordable flying. We have become a market leader in ESG practices through ensuring investment in fuel efficient aircraft and alternative fuels, as well as championing social responsibility by promoting climate advocacy, fostering diversity and inclusion, and supporting local communities through enhanced connectivity and engagement.
Personally, my mission is to demonstrate that flying is a force for good and that curbing emissions does not mean curbing growth. Our journey to net-zero is not about reaching a destination or milestone, but about leaving a positive legacy.

How important is sustainability to Wizz Air and how do you get there?
Sustainability is of the utmost importance to us and embedded in our business strategy.
We are proud to be the greenest option for air travel among our competitors. Our sustainability efforts also gained independent recognition as the “Global Environmental Sustainability Airline Group” from the aviation research institute CAPA – Centre for Aviation in 2022 and 2023.
These awards are supported by independent third-party data benchmarking analysis, which concludes that Wizz Air has the lowest CO2 emissions per seat in the world.
We have embedded sustainability in every aspect of the airline’s business. Our internal Sustainability Council and a Sustainability Committee as part of the board of directors allow us to continuously explore new and develop existing sustainability projects.
Each department of the company has its own initiatives underway, be it deploying AI technology to improve fuel-efficiency of the airline’s operations, securing offtake agreements, or even upcycling crew uniforms into cushions for crew rooms.
Carbon intensity reduction is a big part of Wizz Air’s sustainability efforts.
It is a measurable and comparable indicator of efficiency.
This is why we are continuously investing in our fleet and gradually replacing the Airbus A321ceo aircraft with the latest technology Airbus A321neo.
This is by far the most fuel-efficient technology on the market, which enables flying with a higher seat density and brings environmental benefits such as CO2 and noise emissions reduction compared to the previous generation aircraft. Our fleet is one of the youngest fleets in the world with an average age of 4.3 years, well below the industry average fleet age of around 10 years.
As a result, in 2023, we achieved our lowest ever annual CO2 emissions per passenger/km of 51.5 grams, which was 7% lower than in 2022.
We promote sustainability as a key priority internally just as much as we do on a corporate level. Last year, we launched our first-of-its-kind WIZZ Sustainability Ambassador programme where we selected 24 Sustainability Ambassadors among over 8,000 of the Wizz Air’s cabin crew and office employees. These ambassadors represent 22 bases and two offices across our network in Europe and the Middle East and are focussed on supporting local sustainability projects to promote eco-friendly habits among their colleagues.

One of the pathways is the use of sustainable aviation fuel – can you outline what the airline is doing in this area?
Our sustainability strategy includes short-, medium-, and long-term measures, with the approach to each dictated by the technology available. While Wizz Air is already flying the latest technology aircraft and as hydrogen is obviously very far off, we see SAF as a solution to bridge the gap in the medium term.
Although SAF holds immense potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% over the fuel’s life cycle compared to using fossil jet fuel, we acknowledge the challenges it poses. There are still some limitations to its widespread use, be it availability, access, or price. That is why we actively engage in discussions with national governments and SAF producers to enable production through innovative policy making.
Our SAF strategy is based on portfolio approach. We have forged partnerships and invested in SAF, both securing volumes for the mandates that are coming in next year in Europe and trying to help new technologies come to life.
We have several agreements in place with the world leading SAF producers, including Neste, Cepsa and OMV.
We also made our first equity investment of £5 million (€5.8 million) into Firefly, a UK-based biofuel company developing the technology to produce SAF from sewage sludge, and participated in $50 million (€58 million) investment in CleanJoule, a US-based company making biofuel from renewable agricultural residues and other waste biomass.
These strategic alliances will not only help us secure a stable supply of SAF, but also drive innovation in this crucial area of sustainable aviation.
Last year, we also began commercial testing of SAF. In partnership with MOL and Neste, Wizz Air operated five flights from Budapest Airport with a 37% blend of SAF. We hope to eventually normalise SAF operations.

As SAF is expensive to produce, this could potentially have an impact on ticket prices. How do you ensure these prices remain affordable to customers?
Indeed, SAF is a huge investment, and the journey to making it affordable will not be straightforward.
This is a challenge across the entire aviation industry, as the complexity of decarbonising aviation is something many airlines are grappling with.
Many airlines have also stated that the cost will be passed on to the customer. Our business model is based on offering low fares, therefore, it is against our interests to do this.
Therefore, our aim is to ensure affordability by investing in research and development to make SAF production more efficient to ultimately drive costs down.
On the bright side, SAF is gradually becoming cheaper as biofuel continues to be produced.
Increased demand leads to economies of scale, which will ultimately benefit the customer.
It is also important that more airlines like Wizz Air make strategic investments in research and development into biofuel, as this will reduce production costs in the long term.
We are committed to accelerating this trend. In any case, our ultra-low-cost business model has proven to be efficient, and we will continue providing our customers with affordable air travel options.
We support legislative initiatives that mandate SAF use and encourage governments to invest in its production to ensure appropriate supply for the demand that is foreseen. In that regard, the European Union is a standard setter in terms of global climate policy and we welcome such regulatory approaches to creating marketplaces.
As SAF adoption grows, so will its accessibility. We’re committed to making sustainable choices accessible to all.

Some people argue that the best thing for the planet is not to fly at all. What do you say to people who pose this type of question?
When people argue that the best thing for the planet is not to fly at all, I advocate shifting our focus toward sustainable practices and making more responsible choices.
Rather than completely shunning flying, we need to work together to find a balance that considers both growth and decarbonisation.
Such provocative comments can be short-sighted, without considering the complexities and challenges involved in transitioning to sustainable aviation. Of course, a plane will never be more sustainable than a train or an electric vehicle. That is why we always say – if you don’t need to fly, don’t, but if you really do, compare the options, and choose the greenest with the lowest CO2 per passenger.
We have also noticed that consumer sentiment is changing, and preferences are shifting towards more carbon-efficient options like Wizz Air. Passengers who switch to fly with Wizz Air can reduce their CO2 emissions by almost 50%, compared to flying with legacy carriers.
At the end of the day, you need to balance flying with the positives of travel, which is a force for good. It’s important to consider the broader context, such as fostering global connectivity, driving tourism and economic growth and providing a more efficient form of transport for long distances.

How do you ensure that the SAF you buy is 100% sustainable?
We always take an educated approach towards any investment, research and implementation of SAF along with new technologies.
To support our ambitious decarbonisation journey and ensure supplies of SAF meet future blending mandates, we have been focussing our efforts towards qualifying a SAF supply chain through advanced SAF procurement in line with ultra-low-cost airline principles, while meeting ISCC+, RSB and EU Renewable Energy Directive II criteria on feedstock.

For more information. Visit: wizzair.com

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