Tackling the challenge of sustainable aviation

Tuesday 7 May 2024

An alumna who has returned to St Catharine’s for a PhD will be working with the University of Cambridge’s Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) – a collaboration between the Whittle Laboratory and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) – to support industry and government engagement and policy innovation to enable the aviation sector’s transition to meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Jill Ashcroft Campion (2016, Planning Growth & Regeneration) was awarded The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship in Climate Risk in Aviation and took up this exciting new role in March 2024.

Jill Campion with model aeroplane
Jill Campion

About the Fellowship

Part of The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme established by His Majesty King Charles III prior to his accession in 2022, this Fellowship is supported by a philanthropic gift from Heathrow Airport. 

The aviation sector is particularly vulnerable to the transition and physical risks from climate change:

  • At current rates, aviation is on track to become one of the largest emitting sectors by 20501. Owing to its nearly exclusive dependence on petroleum jet fuels, in order to reach net zero emissions, the sector faces drastic changes in aircraft and fuel technologies, airport infrastructure, airspace regulation, and new business models including market demand management. The development of many potential solutions (green hydrogen, power to liquid fuels, battery powered flight and other sustainable aviation propositions) demands transformational land use and changes to major national infrastructure including fuel supply lines, electricity grid and supply connections.
  • Nearly 270 airports across the world are currently at risk of flooding due to rising sea levels.  Dubai airport, one of the world’s most important aviation hubs, had to close recently due to unprecedented flooding.2,3
  • In very high temperatures aircraft capacity drops and in extreme cases they cannot fly4 
  • Airports and airlines could also be materially impacted by other kinds of physical damage from climate change, such as winter storms and increased clear-air turbulence.

Jill’s research will focus on policy, supporting the AIA’s work under the direction of Professor Rob Miller, Whittle Lab director, and Eliot Whittington, Chief Systems Change Officer at CISL. The AIA team has produced a range of state-of-the-art digital tools and models which assess the possibilities and options for new technologies and operational and business models together with their uncertainties, to enable decision makers to find pathways to sustainable aviation. 

“The goals of this Fellowship in support of the aviation sector’s transition to net zero are incredibly ambitious, but they are achievable, as can be seen from the AIA’s existing work. When I’m feeling daunted, I take heart from the impact of other transformative policies, such as the transition from leaded to unleaded fuel. I am inspired by Hannah Arendt’s assertion that we need to sometimes think “without a banister” and I frequently return to Hannah’s comments in the 1973 Last Interview with Roger Errera, which contains many reflections on the use of political power which remain relevant today. 

“I am grateful to everyone who has made the Fellowship possible, especially The King, who was the Royal Founding Patron of CISL and whose round tables, as part of His Royal Highness’ Sustainable Markets Initiative, inspired the creation of the AIA. The King’s first public engagement following the Coronation was to break ground for the new Whittle Lab at the West Cambridge site, underlining his commitment to the AIA. I am delighted to be working with my new colleagues from a range of disciplines at the AIA.”

Jill’s research so far

Jill arrived at Cambridge as an MPhil student after a successful legal career. Having studied law as an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, Jill found success in corporate law (largely mergers and acquisitions) at a leading City law firm and then worked as European counsel in-house for a major Dow Jones listed company. 

Jill explained, “One of the most important things that I learned at Cambridge is the importance of infrastructure planning to our country. The operation of planning and land use reveals so much about a country’s values, constitution and politics and how a country defines public and national interest. When I began my Master’s, I learned about the transformative post-war nationalisation of the control of land use, which in essence introduced the current planning system and enabled the UK to rebuild after the devastation caused by the Second World War. We are now facing an existential threat from climate change and we need equally transformative policies – and  land use has to be at the heart of our response.”

“I researched Heathrow’s third runway – proposed (and now designated) in the draft Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) – as my Master’s dissertation topic at the suggestion of my  supervisor Mr Kelvin MacDonald FAcSS FRTPI CIHCM FRSA and my PhD on Government decision making in infrastructure planning developed from that. I have been so fortunate to have two incredible supervisors for my PhD: both Kelvin MacDonald and Professor Peter Tyler (1983; Emeritus Fellow 2020). I started at a critical time –  the ANPS was designated in Parliament and a Judicial Review of the decision was sought. I was able to follow the case through the Court process up to the Supreme Court, and interview almost all key participants. This Judicial Review case provided an extraordinary and unexpected wealth of extra evidence for my PhD research”.

“Throughout my research, I have been so grateful for the generosity of policymakers, senior decision-makers in the industry, activists, campaigners, academics, planners and lawyers right up to the highest level, who despite their extensive commitments, made time to speak to me and contribute to the research.”

Thriving at St Catharine’s

The postgraduate application process in 2016 required Jill to choose a college after she had been offered a place by the University of Cambridge for its Planning Growth & regeneration MPhil course.

Jill commented, “My first sight of Catz was on an undergraduate open day as I couldn’t attend the postgraduate open day. Meeting Professor Peter Wothers (1988, Natural Sciences; Fellow 1997) that day was instrumental in my decision to choose Catz. Peter kindly volunteered on the spur of the moment to give me a tailor-made tour that introduced me to postgraduate life at Catz. 

“My Master’s year at Catz was an extraordinary period in my life – the course was fascinating and I learned to row for the first time thanks to some incredible Catz girls who were wonderful, turning out to train novices up in all weathers. They even managed to persuade me to do Queens’ Ergs although to this day I am sure they didn’t explain what it was until it was too late to back out! I owe so much to the support I’ve had from all of the Catz community, particularly Professor Tyler who was also my College Tutor during my MPhil.

“When I was a teenager growing up in North Yorkshire, coming to Cambridge was an impossible dream. I am now an active supporter of outreach programmes and I hope young people with academic potential from any background will take the leap and apply here.”

Professor Tyler added, "It is excellent news that Jill has secured this important and prestigious Fellowship. Transitioning the aviation industry to Net Zero presents formidable challenges that can only be addressed by governments working closely with the aviation industry. Understanding the key issues requires researchers that have both strong academic skills but also work based experience. Jill has both and is thus ideally placed to support the industry and government engagement and policy innovation needed to enable the aviation industry’s transition to meet Net Zero 2050."

Jill Campion with St Catharine's rowing crew
Jill (in the three seat) with a crew from St Catharine's College Boat Club


1. Department for Transport. Jet Zero Strategy. July 2022. Available online:

2. AN Yesudian & RJ Dawson. Global analysis of sea level rise risk to airports. Climate Risk Management. 2021, vol. 31.

3. D Gritten, F Gillett, R Comerford  Dubai airport chaos as UAE and Oman reel from deadly sotrms 18 April 2024

4 G Gratton, et al. The impacts of climate change on Greek airports. Climactic Change. 2020, vol 160.