Tankering in aviation

November 22, 2022

Assessing the impact of the ReFuelEU SAF mandate

Tankering is a practice whereby  an aircraft uplifts excess fuel in one airport to cover its return trip in addition to its outward journey. Airlines tanker to save fuel cost when fuel is cheaper at the departing airport than at the destination airport. Tankering is a real climate issue, as the extra weight from the excess fuel leads to extra fuel consumption, but there are solutions to mitigate it, most notably in the context of ReFuelEU, the upcoming  EU’s sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandate.

  • Because of the inhomogeneity in fuel price across the EU, this study finds that 37% of intra-European flights would find it profitable to carry extra fuel for economic benefit at present. This corresponds to  the emission of 457,000 additional tonnes of CO2 per year, which exceeds the yearly emissions of the three busiest German domestic routes, namely Berlin-Frankfurt, Berlin-Munich and Munich-Hamburg.
  • Under the ReFuelEU proposal from the European Commission (EC), the introduction of SAF mandates in large and medium airports, called “Union airports” in the Regulation (over one million passengers) is good news regarding intra-European tankering, as it leads to an homogenisation of airport fuel prices. Combined with fair carbon pricing, which penalises the additional CO2 released by the consumption of the tankering  fuel penalty, extra fuel consumption from intra-European tankering could decrease by 30% and 42% in 2030 and 2035 respectively.
  • However, we find that in the absence of a fair kerosene tax, intra-European tankering would still be responsible for 280,000 and 300,000 avoidable tonnes of CO2 per year in 2030 and 2035, or about the yearly emissions of flights between Paris and Nice as well as Paris and Toulouse. This undermines the full climate benefit of the SAF mandates.
  • We therefore welcome the EC’s proposal of an “anti-tankering” provision (Art. 5 of ReFuelEU) which ensures that at a given Union airport, an airline uplifts at least 90% of the fuel needed to operate flights from that given airport, limiting the amount of tankering allowed.

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