Aviation and Sustainability

Sustainable aviation practices can significantly reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the long run. However, the increasing volume of air traffic and the benefits in this sector have hindered sustainable airline operations.

Recent statistics by the International Council on Clean Transportation revealed a 32 percent increase in the world’s CO2 emissions, where 2.4 percent of the emission is the share of the aviation industry. This amounted to a value of around 918 million tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere due to the increased airline operations.  

 

Fueling the Industry with SAF

According to the World Economic Forum, a return flight from London to New York emits more CO2 than the average person in 56 countries would produce in one year. As airlines explore alternatives to reduce their impact on climate, 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from renewable sources can help them cut emissions by 80 percent. Airlines are already using SAF for passenger flights in the US and some are testing SAF in wide-body aircraft in Europe.  

The Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition is a global initiative to facilitate the transition to net-zero flying by 2050. To reach this goal signatory companies, including airlines, airports, fuel suppliers, and other industry stakeholders, are championing specific initiatives such as a mechanism for aggregating demand for carbon-neutral flying, co-investment vehicles, and value-chain industry blueprints. The signatories include American Airlines, Qatar Airways, Airport Council International, Boeing, Shell, Bp, and many more. 

As the industry is projected to continue to grow post-COVID because of tourism, its share of global CO2 will increase even further. Therefore, decisive climate action policies from aviation are crucial to delivering benefits to society in an environmentally sustainable way.

SAF is a cleaner fuel resourced from agricultural waste to carbon captured from the air and is energy transition efforts by 2030 and beyond. It is fully compatible with existing aircraft and fuelling infrastructure and has already powered more than 250,000 commercial flights. But due to limited production capacity and the high price gap with traditional fossil fuels, sustainable aviation fuel comprises less than 0.1 percent of all jet fuel used. 

There is a significant need for regulation and fiscal policies to help bridge this cost differential, drive demand, and generate incentives for investors and financers. Achieving only 10 percent SAF by 2030 would mean; 1) producing 30 million tonnes of SAF, 2) saving 60 million tonnes of CO2 annually, 3) building 300 SAF plants, 4) requiring a $250 billion investment in the next decade, and 5) providing 300,000 green jobs.

SAF presents important market opportunities for capital providers, with the global volume estimated to reach $600 billion by 2050. Therefore, the transition to SAF requires shifting investment into innovative financing models for new green tech and mobilizing the purchase of SAF by companies and travelers who will cover the additional cost of flying using sustainable fuels for their corporate travel.

 

Implications 

Introducing new technologies such as sustainable fuel alternatives and zero-emission engine designs has promised to cut down aviation emissions. A decline in aviation emissions amounts to a decline in climate change-related impacts. Despite attempts to significantly cut down the CO2 emissions, the GHG emission values are expected to increase significantly due to the airline industry spreading its wings for expansion in developed and developing countries. Reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint is a challenge due to the offered benefits for the passenger and cargo in the booming global economy. 

The use of electric energy sources such as a battery for electric-powered aircraft engines provides efficient operations with less maintenance and reduced GHG emissions, thus improving eco-efficiency and reducing possible socio-environmental impacts. On the other hand, the aircraft’s fabrication and recycling that use these alternative energy sources are often more expensive than the conventional aviation fuel-powered engines. Thus, possible tradeoffs exist despite efficiency improvements and sustainability practices being adopted within the aviation industry. 

Risk analysis, fault detection, digital maintenance, and quality control are procedures that require a considerable amount of real-time data to be modeled for supporting proper day-to-day decision-making in the aviation industry. Due to the complexity of the advanced technologies used in the aviation industry, maintenance procedures can be more challenging, thus causing distortions to sustainable airline operations. 

The aviation industry can shift to sustainability by implementing several efficient alternative technologies with less ecological impact. Numerous studies suggest that fuel savings, substitute fuels, air-to-air refills, better aviation engines, environmentally friendly impulsion systems, and well-organized flight routes can assist in shifting toward aviation sustainability.

 

 

Photo: lp-studio/Shutterstock

 


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