Two World Economic Forum (WEF) platforms and a consortium of businesses have launched a new sustainable aviation competition seeking to encourage innovative solutions to help decarbonise the industry. 

The Sustainable Aviation Challenge is a collaboration between the First Movers Coalition, a joint initiative between WEF and the US State Department, and UpLink with support from Salesforce and Deloitte

After submissions close on 2 October 2023, 10 to 15 “Top Innovators” will be chosen to benefit from the WEF and UpLink network providing brand building, visibility, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. 

Aviation industry players including Airbus, Breakthrough Energy, Boom Supersonic, Eni, JetBlue, and Qantas are also supporting the challenge as a call for entrepreneurs to collaborate with sustainable aviation leaders. 

John Dutton, head of UpLink, said: “The Sustainable Aviation Challenge offers a unique opportunity to connect promising start-ups with the ecosystem required for achieving net-zero aviation, thus driving action for the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].” 

A number of key technologies have been highlighted by the challenge including the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), propulsion technology and value chain innovations around feedstock, engineering and infrastructure. 

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Six selection criteria have been listed to show potential innovators what could lead to them being chosen, including the scalability of the tech, the commercial viability, technology readiness, carbon reduction potential, team emphasis, and fundraising success. 

Sustainability has become one of the key themes in the aviation sector in recent years as businesses react to growing concerns about their impact on the climate from investors and customers alike, additionally, many big players are seeking to adhere to industry-lead and their own net zero targets.

SAF use in particular has received large amounts of funding as it is highlighted as one of the key technologies to directly lower carbon emissions, though barriers to its widespread use include the high costs and current lower availability. 

Recent notable investments include the purchase of 14,700T of SAF by International Airlines Group and Microsoft and the upcoming first full SAF-fuelled transatlantic flight from London Heathrow to New York by Virgin Atlantic in November.