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Air Transport environmental impact

There is a lot of myths out there about what the air transport environmental impact is.

Like virtually every area of human activity, air transport has an impact on the environment


This impact takes several forms, including the disturbance caused by aircraft noise and aircraft engine emissions. A major concern for the industry is greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and their implication for climate change.

CO2 is not the only emission from aviation. The exhaust from aircraft engines is made up of:

  • 7% to 8% CO2 and water vapour.
  • 0.5% nitrogen oxides, unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxides; traces of hydroxyl family and nitrogen compounds and small amounts of soot particles.
  • 91.5% and 92.5% of aircraft engine exhaust is normal atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen

(source air transport action group)

With aviation growth forecast to double over the next twenty years at an average of 5% each year the current carbon footprint is bound to increase.

(source boeing.co.uk)

However, a growing carbon footprint is unacceptable both within the industry and by consumers alike. This is reflected in a pole carried out by Airbus on passenger expectations, the following aircraft innovations are rated according to how much they appeal to their respondents:

(source Airbus.com)

 The fact is that the air transport environmental impact is a major concern for the industry which has been improving its environmental performance consistently for the last 50 years. Partly that is because greater efficiency directly benefits the profitability of businesses as well as the environment.

From the moment aircraft are designed, engineers are working out how to make them more efficient.

Aircraft manufactures are focused on reducing fuel consumption, and operating costs in general, in the battle to win orders from airlines

Fuel costs, which can account for 50% of an airline’s operating costs, can make or break an airline.

 New technologies on the horizon have the potential to significantly decrease air transport environmental impact especially greenhouse gas emissions , and solutions that are being implemented today also promise other savings.

next steps to reducing Air Transport environmental impact

The aviation industry has taken the unprecedented step of setting three global commitments for reducing its emissions.

  • From now until 2020: 1.5% efficiency improvement per year

The industry is using a four-pillar strategy to further increase its fuel efficiency by a further 17% over the coming decade. One of the most important parts of that strategy is the introduction of new technology – the biggest impact of which comes through replacement of older aircraft in the fleet with newer, more efficient ones. This is not cheap. To keep to the 1.5% fleet efficiency improvement target, the world’s airlines will need to purchase around 12,000 new aircraft by 2020 at an estimated cost of $1.3 trillion.

  • From 2020: Capping emissions growth from aviation

 While emissions will continue to grow until 2020, the aviation sector has agreed to cap its net emissions at the 2020 level. From this point on, any emissions the aviation industry is unable to reduce through operational, technological or infrastructure measures, or by using biofuels, will need to be offset by market based measures.

  •   By 2050: halving net emissions based on 2005 levels

After 2020, the industry will start seeing some of the large emission reduction efforts made possible by advancements. By this time, sustainable biofuels will be well established and the necessary supply chain will begin to deliver large volumes of low-carbon fuel to the airlines.

These two major factors, as well as continuing work on infrastructure and operations efficiency, will allow the industry to aim for the most ambitious goal: to ensure that net carbon emissions from aviation in 2050 will be half of what they were in 2005, or 318.5 million tonnes

 (source enviro.aero)