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African Airlines Battle Affordability Barrier in Embracing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

Kenya Airways B7878 LHR William Derrickson

A Kenya Airways Boeing 787 landing in London. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The African aviation industry is facing a critical challenge in its pursuit of sustainability: the affordability of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). During a dynamic panel discussion at the recent AviaDev Africa event in Nairobi, industry leaders highlighted the hurdles faced by African airlines in adopting SAF.

The consensus among the panelists was that, while environmental sustainability is a top priority, the high cost of SAF poses significant financial obstacles that must be overcome collectively.

The Cost Factor: A Barrier to Sustainability

Jennifer Bamuturaki, CEO of Uganda Airlines, candidly expressed the concerns of many African airlines, stating, “Most of these African airlines are looking for survival. We can’t afford it [SAF] it’s three times the cost of Jet A1 fuel.”  Her sentiment highlighted the stark reality and the financial limitations faced by African airlines in their pursuit of sustainable practices. Striking a balance between economic viability and environmental responsibility remains a pressing challenge for the industry in Africa.

Eduardo Fairen, CEO of TAAG Angola Airlines, shed light on another obstacle faced by African airlines — the limited availability of new aircraft. Fairen highlighted, “If we need 1000 aircraft here [Africa], I wonder where they will be coming from, probably secondhand aircraft with old engines burning fuel and polluting,” he said alluding to the scarcity of new, fuel-efficient aircraft which is forcing African airlines to rely on older planes that contribute to increased fuel consumption and emissions.

Panel discussions with African airline leaders (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Victor Shalton)

Linden Birns, head of communications at Airlink, stressed the importance of collaboration and shared responsibility. He emphasized the need for “better thinking” – regarding the commercial sustainability challenges facing most African carriers – and closer cooperation among industry stakeholders to drive advancements in sustainable aviation.

“We need to be focusing on those areas where the solutions are already available but require better thinking.” He also noted that a collaborative approach can facilitate knowledge sharing, technological advancements, and more cost-effective solutions in SAF production and distribution.

Policy Support and Incentives

Allan Kilavuka, CEO of Kenya Airways, called for policy support and financial incentives to aid the African aviation industry in its sustainability endeavors. Kilavuka emphasized, “We need subsidies. We don’t have scale, and that’s a fact… Bigger emitters should be penalized at our expense.”

He urged the policymakers to level the playing field by implementing measures that support African airlines’ transition to SAF and reward their commitment to sustainability. The Kenya Airways boss also noted with concern that Africa is the least emitters of carbon emissions.

The AviaDev Africa panel discussion shed light on the financial barriers African airlines face in adopting Sustainable Aviation Fuel. While environmental sustainability remains a top priority, the affordability of SAF posed a significant challenge for the African carriers and called for the industry to collaborate to overcome these barriers, leveraging existing solutions, and advocating for policy support and incentives. The panelists voiced in unison the need to be actively involved in the entire SAF value chain to exert influence, explore alternative strategies, and advocate for financial incentives.

Victor Shalton


  • Victor Shalton

    Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Victor’s love for aviation goes way back to when he was 11-years-old. Living close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he developed a love for planes and he even recalls aspiring to be a future airline executive for Kenya Airways. He also has a passion in the arts and loves writing and had his own aviation blog prior to joining AirlineGeeks. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at DeKUT and aspiring to make a career in a more aviation-related course.

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