Green Deal

A roadmap for European aviation to achieve net zero by 2050

To achieve the 2050 objectives set by the European Green Deal of a 90% reduction in emissions from transport, including aviation, the European Parliament commissioned Ricardo to conduct an analysis of the technological innovations, operational measures and alternative fuels that are needed for the aviation industry.

Ricardo performed an assessment of investment options, regulations, policies and innovations (including aircraft technologies and alternative fuels) needed to achieve net zero emissions in the aviation sector by 2050.


The aim of the study was to develop an understanding of the expected contribution of the different measures to the sector’s decarbonisation, while estimating the investment needed for the industry to achieve those goals. This extended to analysis of the European Union’s regulatory framework and funding sources that can support the industry in its decarbonisation pathway. 

With Ricardo’s extensive knowledge of decarbonisation technologies (covering both aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels) together with our expertise in supporting policy development at the highest level to EU institutions (including the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU agencies) and national governments, we were able to provide a comprehensive overview of the different aspects that have to work in tandem for aviation to achieve its decarbonisation goals.

Our approach

The study involved a multi-pronged approach looking at technological development, funding requirements and the existing regulatory framework.

The project began with a detailed analysis of the decarbonisation needs of the aviation industry by 2050 and the challenges inherent in achieving this. Aviation is a difficult sector to decarbonise (due to the lack of mature solutions for aircrafts operating on battery-electric or hydrogen technologies) and requires measures on several fronts including technological, regulatory and financial. A complete overview of aircraft technologies and sustainable fuels, along with the associated costs needed to reduce aircraft emissions, was provided. This was supported by an in-depth regulatory analysis that assessed the European Union’s role in supporting the decarbonisation of the aviation industry. The study also included a number of case studies representing examples of best practice in terms of technology development and regulatory frameworks worldwide.

One of the main challenges of this project was to balance the need for producing a complete overview of the different decarbonisation solutions and technologies for the aviation sector (including identifying their limitations) whilst also considering their overlaps and synergies in delivering against Green Deal targets. The study also needed to convey this complex setting in a concise and easy-to-digest report to inform policy makers and non-experts.


The study provided Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) with a complete assessment of the technological challenges and funding requirements necessary for the aviation industry to decarbonise to support their decision-making processes. This included several policy recommendations on the different areas under analysis (technology, funding and the regulatory framework).

To meet the objectives of the Green Deal, "well-to-wake” (WTW) emissions in 2050 need to be less than 49.1 megatons (MT) (a reduction of 73% relative to the baseline value of 184.8 MT). Table 1 shows that aircraft technologies and operational measures alone will not deliver these objectives. Including alternative fuels, however, allows the targets to be met with a comfortable margin.

Table 1: Effects of technologies and alternative fuels on emissions in 2050



Tank-to-wake (TTW) emissions (MT)


Well-to-wake (WTW) emissions (MT)


Change in WTW emissions relative to the baseline









With technologies






-55.4 %


With technologies and alternative fuels






-90.1 %


The development of new technologies, the purchase of new aircraft with those technologies, and the uptake of alternative fuels will impose costs on the aviation industry. While the purchase of aircraft with new technologies is expected to lead to additional costs (compared to aircraft with current technology) of €378 billion between 2020 and 2050, with the research and development (R&D) of those technologies incurring costs of €50 billion, the increased efficiency of new aircraft is expected to give fuel cost savings of €395 billion (2020-2050).

The overall costs of decarbonisation measures are expected to be about €33 billion between 2020 and 2050. These investments in new aircraft technologies and alternative fuels would provide the reduction in WTW emissions needed to meet 2050 targets.

The study was presented to the TRAN Committee (Committee on Transport and Tourism) of the European Parliament in October 2022. Read more about it here.

Disclaimer: Please note that in relation to this study, all views expressed here are Ricardo’s not the European Parliament’s.

What the client has to say about Ricardo

“It is not easy to put such a complex and very technical topic into such a readable document. Ricardo’s report was also very nicely written, on top of being content-rich.” European Parliament study leader

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