The Sustainable Flight Challenge: Innovating a Brighter Future for the Aviation Industry

February 26, 2024

Airlines are coming together in a competition not for fame or glory, but to accelerate a more sustainable future in aviation. Indeed, The Sustainable Flight Challenge (TSFC) has sparked an intriguing call for change within the aviation industry: To develop and utilize more sustainable practices and establish a clearer future for air travel through innovation and environmentalism. And as participating airlines compete, notable outcomes have been unveiled, such as new forward-thinking approaches, enhanced sustainable travel measures, and the forging of collaborations towards the industry's collective goal — net-zero emissions by 2050.

History of The Sustainable Flight Challenge

The first TSFC launched in May 2022, when 16 airlines were invited to participate in a new arena "to search for the most innovative solutions to make flights as environmentally sustainable as possible.” The Challenge was developed by a member of SkyTeam, a global alliance enterprise and network of airlines dedicated to air travel. TSFC is a new take on the old challenge that inspired it — the 1930 London to Melbourne air race, where pilot teams and their aircraft were tested on speed and performance within a 16-day flight competition.

TSFC has attracted attention from the industry and garnered an impressive list of partners, including Delta Airlines, AirEuropa, Korean Air, AeroMexico, and several other airlines from all around the world. The intention of the Challenge is to boost collaboration not only within one airline team, but to build partnerships across airline companies for information sharing, best practice development, and a pledge for sustainability in aviation worldwide. 

The Challenge is now an annual event and in 2023 it “generated more than 350 new solutions in the quest to find a greener future for air travel.” For 2024, exciting new challenges are expected this year, with a focus on the theme of adoption of scalable best practices across industry operations.

Implementation of Sustainable Flight

In order to achieve the TSFC and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, several aspects of the aviation industry must be addressed. The FAA lists the many areas that will need improvement, including the Climate Action Plan, Aviation Fuel, EAGLE, Technologies, Flight Operations, Airports, Noise, and News Stories. Through upgraded efficiencies in fuel usage, CO2 emissions, noise reduction, pilot training, air traffic operations, and more, the vision for a brighter future in aviation is realized with innovative challenges like TSFC.

Outcomes of The Sustainable Flight Challenge

There are several award categories within TSFC that touch on these main issues of the industry and seek to find sustainable solutions to specific aspects of flight. This includes “operating flights with the lowest CO2 emissions, achieving the greatest CO2 reduction (compared to their baseline), the lowest CO2 emissions for ground handling operations and waste reduction. Other awards celebrate airlines that push the boundaries of sustainability through innovation and those making sustainability a part of their daily operations on a greater scale, making progress through industry collaboration possible.” Delta Air Lines, for example, was awarded with two of the top prizes for 2023: “Lowest CO2 Ground Emissions Home Base” for electric ground support and “Best Innovation Wildcard” for several high-quality submissions.

Benefits of the challenge are improving sustainability, receiving public recognition as a sustainable leader in the industry, and an opportunity for collaboration within a global network of airlines. TSFC hopes to be a mutually beneficial endeavor that improves the airline industry as a whole by drawing attention to these collective efforts as well as speeding up the charge towards sustainability in aviation by giving rewards and incentives for innovation.

Future of the Aviation Industry and Pilot Education

According to reports, the U.S. will be “in need of around 130,000 new pilots” for the next few decades. Creating a sustainable future in aviation starts with a foundational education in both theory and technical studies. Capitol Technology University offers several degree programs tailored to the special skills needed for pilots and ground control personnel to become experienced and highly sought-after professionals. Visit our program page to learn more about this exciting field of study within a steadily rising industry.