Breaking Down Silos for an Interconnected Industry: COP28 FMH Sustainable Aviation Roundtable Reflections

At such a critical point in time – a moment where climate change has become a global emergency that transcends national borders and necessitates action from humanity as a collective – it’s important that the industry mobilizes to combat the climate change crisis and build a more sustainable world.


As the aviation industry embraces the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, key players at the global scale are spearheading a range of sustainable innovations. The 2023 UN Conference COP28 in the UAE and the corresponding side-events demonstrated the consistent and conscious effort of thoughtful climate leaders focused on actionable solutions. Positioned in close proximity to the official Blue and Green Zones of COP28, the Future Mobility Hub was a premiere space for converging pioneering minds, ideas, and innovations to ignite collaborative solutions for the future of mobility, transportation, and the just energy transition.


Despite the rate of technology development continuing to increase in a quickly-evolving industry, questions remain about which solutions or innovations are the most promising to reduce fossil fuel usage, the regulations in place that hinder innovation – or those that don’t yet exist but are needed to break down barriers, current gaps and opportunities in the sustainability sector, how stakeholders can effectively collaborate to drive more rapid progress, and much more.


During a private Sustainable Aviation Roundtable at the Future Mobility Hub on December 6, 2023, industry leaders – including policy-makers, manufacturers, operators, entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and investors – discussed some of the most pressing issues impacting the aviation industry today. The participants share a common mission to make aviation sustainable and to be a part of the global solution; key topics covered ranged from sustainable fuel sources, electrification, and carbon offsetting to policy, public perception, and collective action.


Here are nine major takeaways from the conversation:


  • There isn’t a silver bullet for building a more sustainable aviation industry. Until recently, the aviation industry was dominated by a small number of players, and innovation was limited to incremental improvements aimed at reducing cost and improving efficiency. The market today is diverse, growing, and driving competition; the result of this is that we see more disruptive technologies and players emerging every day. There are a range of solutions poised to disrupt the industry and build a more environmentally-minded technology landscape, including zero-emission hydrogen-electric solutions, point-to-point transit services through electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL), Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), hydrogen as a fuel source, and much more. All of these solutions are necessary to reach our desired end goal, and a collaborative, multi-pronged strategy is required. To decarbonize one of the most complex and carbon-producing modes of transportation by 2050, we need to work together. We need to continue to spur competition but also collaboration; we must sustain a strong and diverse market. “If I win, hopefully you win too, and we can push the needle a little bit further together.”
  • Aerospace innovations are instrumental in addressing key challenges related to climate change mitigation, monitoring, and management. The discourse surrounding climate change and aerospace 20 years ago was limited, distant, and less urgent. Today, we have a global perspective and the data to prove the importance of not only transforming but rethinking aerospace technologies completely. Continued investment in innovative ideas, including those that originate in and are intertwined with advancements in other industries, is imperative. This global perspective originates from aerospace technology as well: satellite remote sensing capabilities are what enable real-time monitoring of the earth and support use-cases like monitoring greenhouse gas emission levels, tracking population changes, detecting wildfires, etc. Data is our path to accountability.
  • As the rate of technology development continues to accelerate, there will be more and more pressure to make the process of technology integration – development, certification, and commercialization – significantly faster. Safety and sustainability will be key to convincing regulators, communities, and insurers of the viability of the electrification and urbanization of air services. However, in order to move toward a more rapid iteration within the industry while still preserving safety, players need to uphold safety as the top priority. This must never be compromised to push forward sustainable agendas or timelines.
  • The digitization of the aviation industry holds immense promise to improve system-level efficiency across the aviation supply chain. However, in an industry where even minor errors can have catastrophic consequences, safety remains the priority, making the industry especially sensitive to the rapid integration of AI and automation. While revolutionary innovations with the potential to reshape aviation are emerging globally, many aspects of flight management, repair, and maintenance still follow traditional methods from previous generations. Automation and AI stand poised to revolutionize aviation, but their implementation hinges on necessity. Presently, with approximately 30,000 commercial airliners in operation, the urgency for AI-driven optimization is not pressing. However, as the global fleet expands, particularly with the proliferation of electric autonomous aircraft, this dynamic will shift. In essence, the power of AI solutions in aviation will manifest when the industry grapples with scalability limitations with existing approaches. Thus, automation and AI will only replace current infrastructures of the industry when there is a need to do so.
  • Making advancements and spinning innovations from ideation to conception in the aviation industry is expensive and complicated in terms of certification requirements. Compounding this challenge is the government’s occasional struggle to keep up with fast-paced technology advancements. It’s imperative that the progress of startup technologies and innovations is not hindered by a lack of funding. Given the capital-intensive nature of aerospace and aviation markets, private and public funding sources needs to be accessible in order to keep up with the rapid rate of technology and continue stimulating the broader sector.
  • Establishing globally standardized policies is essential for fostering innovation within the aviation industry. We are a global industry. Given that air travel transcends borders and connects every corner of the globe, it’s evident that we operate within a global framework. Exploration is part of our human DNA, and families are more spread out than they used to be; so while the public demonizes aviation’s role in carbon creation, there is a concurrent and strong societal pressure to expand access. When we talk about the sustainable revolution for the aviation industry, we must consider such a revolution in a global context and in a way that fosters growth. Consider carbon taxes, for example – while the US’s regulations surrounding carbon taxes are market-driven, European guidelines are mandated. For a healthy global competitive landscape, all stakeholders must work together and adhere to “international industry standards”. These policies must be put into place to mobilize the various types of stakeholders, across the entire value-chain, to accomplish our net-zero goals (and beyond). By embracing standardized policies and global cooperation, we can drive innovation while ensuring sustainability within the industry.
  • A notable distinction between startup players and industry giants in the aviation sector lies in their approach to innovation. While it’s safe to assume that the CEOs of the two biggest aircraft manufacturers probably have minimal communication, the same can’t be said for the startup ecosystem – the top founders and CEOs working in hybrid-electric aircraft, for example, frequently engage with one another. The startup community is more so directly competing against the big incumbents, and collaboration between players is essential for success. The broader industry’s mindset toward the intersection of innovation and competition thus needs to adjust accordingly. Embracing a more collaborative, cross-industry approach to innovation, where startups and established players actively exchange ideas and insights, can break down barriers and foster a culture of continuous advancement and mutual growth.
  • While building sustainability strategies and roadmaps, stakeholders should seek collaboration early rather than operating in silos. Achieving meaningful change requires an ecosystem-wide effort from each and every player, including the regulator, infrastructure provider, airline, ground handler, etc. A healthy competitive landscape will continue to increase competition, foster innovation, and force companies to continuously improve. A thriving ecosystem makes it easier to form a diverse set of partners; it is the traditional one-to-one static relationships that begin to fall behind.
  • Startups are solutions seeking problems, and the industry has a lot of problems seeking solutions. Building an interconnected system where seamless information and knowledge sharing can link answers to the questions being asked will enable our ability to address existing and future problems – those that have yet to even arise. For the industry as a whole, diversification of partners and collaborative opportunities is critical, as is engagement between the big players and startup companies and SMEs. Robustness in this industry is key, so we must guarantee that there are multiple points of engagement with one other. By encouraging collaboration and cooperation among all stakeholders, we can leverage collective expertise to drive sustainable growth in the aviation sector.



About The Future Mobility Hub at COP28:

Citizens Companies pledged to establish 60 Supercool Mobility Centers worldwide by 2030, and debuted a new Supercool Mobility Center in Dubai, UAE alongside COP28. Located at the newly launched Dubai Supercool Mobility Center (at Uptown Tower, 10th Floor, Dubai, UAE), the Future Mobility Hub (FMH) brings together global business leaders, industry organizations, government and non-government officials, investors, innovators, and thought-leaders to ignite collaborative solutions, drive critical discussion, inform policy decisions, facilitate exchange of ideas, and build new cross-industry partnerships. The center’s areas of focus include the future of mobility, transportation, and the just energy transition.The FMH is brought to you by Supercool Dubai and Founding Partners: Formula E, Hub Culture, The Female Quotient, United Nations Global Compact Brazil, E1 Series, Extreme E, Hedera, Starburst Aerospace, and FutureOf.


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