Securing a sustainable future for aviation from global aerospace
Parsippany, NJ, April 22, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – The aviation industry, established in an age of abundant and largely cheap fossil fuels, is on a mission to decarbonize.
Estimates of the environmental impact of aviation – particularly the industry’s annual contribution to global human-made carbon emissions – typically stand at just over 2%. Although this is already a significant number, the actual effect of air transport on the environment would be closer to double, largely due to the impact of emissions at higher altitudes. Public estimates may put the number even higher.
The challenge regarding aviation sustainability issues and the achievement of sustainable practices is amplified by a context of approximately 5% annual growth in air transport. While airliners have become 70% more fuel efficient in the last half of the 20th century, global emissions have increased significantly as air travel has grown in popularity. Despite a temporary disruption due to COVID, significant growth is expected to continue. In 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that the number of air transports could double by 2038.
Adopting green initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of aviation will take time and significant research and development. The change will be incremental and will require the commitment and investment of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), visionaries and regulators.
How is industry reducing emissions today and what are the most carbon neutral technologies and innovations starting to appear on the horizon?
Reduce emissions within existing infrastructure
Gradual changes are underway on many fronts to address aviation sustainability issues as various stakeholders seek to reduce their carbon footprint.
OEMs strive to deliver more fuel efficient airframes and engines to airlines which, in turn, strive to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency. These improvements are mainly achieved by: changes in the aerodynamic design of aircraft and engines; use of lighter materials and innovative processes in the manufacture of the airframe and interior components; and the development and use of alternative fuels.
Although the main motivation for change is the competitive and customer-oriented marketplace, various initiatives have also been adopted by government groups, such as the 2017 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard for new aircraft. Considered the first global design certification standard governing CO2 emissions in all industrial sectors, the measure was adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2020.
Progress is also being made in the use of alternative fuel sources, such as biofuels. Derived from plants or waste, synthetic fuels made from biomass generate around 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fuels. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic made the first flight powered in part by biofuel. Since then, many major airlines, including British Airways and United Airlines, have started to use, or are committed to adopting, biofuels as part of their eco-friendly strategies.
A natural, and perhaps obvious, part of this regeneration process is that older, noisy, fuel-hungry planes are removed. As it becomes increasingly difficult and significantly less economical to operate certain models, pressure from regulators, pressure groups and even financiers and insurers will only accelerate the retirement of the most inefficient planes.
On the ground, too, the change is evident. As electric trains connecting terminals have become commonplace, airport ground equipment, including aircraft tugs, is also increasingly becoming electrically powered.
Air and land traffic management systems are also increasingly intelligent through the use of tools such as flexible navigation systems. Relying on both human and artificial intelligence, aircraft spend shorter periods taxiing, are more efficiently flown through the air, and spend less time waiting to land.
Not only does this lead to happier passengers, it also means less emergency fuel to carry, reducing weight and multiplying the ecological impact of efficiently managed flight segments.
Use of small unmanned aircraft
Part of the significant progress made by the aerospace industry over the past 10 years towards efficiency has centered on unmanned operations. Lightweight, battery-powered drones now perform a multitude of tasks that would have traditionally been performed by helicopters and other aircraft.
Drones not only saved energy in traditional aviation applications, they also helped make construction sites more efficient, precision-assisted agriculture (which means less harmful chemicals used) and began to develop. getting vehicles off the road by delivering packages, to name a few applications. .
Future developments regarding sustainability in the aviation industry will depend on three groups with the foresight and determination to lead change.
First, the existing players in the aeronautics industry who have made it their mission to revolutionize existing practices. Major OEMs have made bold statements about their commitments to a sustainable future. Most notably, representatives from seven of the world’s leading aerospace OEMs made a rare joint statement on aviation sustainability at the 2019 Paris Airshow.
In addition, in January 2021, Boeing announced that its new commercial aircraft would be ready and certified to fly on 100% sustainable fuels by 2030, reducing emissions by up to 80%. Likewise, in September 2020, Airbus revealed three zero-emission concept aircraft that use hydrogen as a fuel source and are expected to enter service by 2035.
The second group includes start-up manufacturers, infrastructure developers and software vendors producing entirely new operating platforms. The role of this group is to challenge the status quo and includes the development of advanced air mobility (AAM), networks of electric charging stations, unmanned aircraft and clean fuel, among other emerging technologies.
The last group includes policy makers, regulators and governments. Their challenge is immense and should not be overlooked. Simply put, it’s about setting bold goals and creating the framework for innovation and certification that achieves those goals.
The entire aviation supply chain must be jointly responsible for the sustainability of the industry. OEMs investing in green fuels must believe that infrastructure, including at airports, will be able to support these initiatives. In addition, subcontractors, service providers and even insurers need to be challenged to know how they are transforming their own businesses to achieve greater sustainability.
As the myriad of initiatives and plans gain momentum, many companies are using carbon offsets to lessen their impact on the planet. One method for the aviation industry is to use the ICAO-supported Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Program for International Aviation (CORSIA). Although still voluntary, the CORSIA program aims to stabilize the net CO2 emissions of international flights from 2021.
While beneficial, carbon offsets are generally only seen as short-term relief from a much more serious situation.
While the challenge is great, the building blocks are in place to enable the next phase of aerospace development to achieve much higher levels of sustainability in the aviation industry while reducing its carbon footprint. Growing public concern about climate change, coupled with government support for green initiatives, should help innovation in this area to flourish.
The mission has started on many fronts! Even though some corporate and government target dates for a cleaner environment seem far away, positive change will become more evident each year. Working with many entities at the forefront of this transformation, Global Aerospace can attest to the progress made in many areas and fully supports development initiatives across the industry.
The aerospace industry has always been at the forefront of technology. He now has the opportunity to create solutions that will have an impact far beyond air transport. A transformation can be achieved that will ensure that the next era of development can carry on the aviation legacy of connecting the global community, but with less impact on the planet it depends on.
Climate change and flight: what share of global CO2 emissions come from aviation? – Our world in data
Facts and figures (icao.int)
Global Commercial Aviation Growth Analysis | 2020-2038 | Grupo One Air
IATA – IATA forecasts predict 8.2 billion air travelers in 2037
The aeronautics industry is reducing its environmental footprint: aviation: advantages beyond borders
Environmental impact of aviation – Wikipedia
Is low carbon aviation possible? | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 26.09.2016
ICAO Council adopts new CO2 emissions standard for aircraft
EPA Offers First Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards For Aircraft | US EPA Press Releases | US EPA
The 6 best technologies to improve aircraft energy efficiency – PreScouter – Personalized intelligence from a global network of experts
Aviation biofuel – Wikipedia
British Airways plans to use biofuel on transatlantic flights in 2022 – Airlinerwatch
These 7 Simple Plane Fixes Could Halve Carbon Emissions at Little or No Cost | PBS NewsHour
United steps up commitment to fuel flights with biofuels – United Hub
Pushback Tugs 2.0 – Mototok “Spacer” Electric Aircraft Tug
Artificial intelligence in the air traffic control tower – Nanalyze
Aviation benefits from satellite navigation (stanford.edu)
Airbus unveils a new zero-emission concept aircraft | Aviation pros
Boeing: environmental innovation, conservation and leadership
About Global Aerospace
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