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How Close Are We To Green Aviation? – Aviation

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The need for green aviation is of course critical, but how close
are we to green aviation?

The aviation industry burns a huge amount of fossil fuel to make
its aircraft fly. Its fuel consumption is now responsible for
between 2.5% to 2.8% of global CO2 emissions every
year. When this is added to aircrafts’ other gas emissions and
vapour trails, aviation’s contribution to climate change could
be as much as 5%.

As with every other industry, aviation must decarbonise. It is
absolutely essential that aviation addresses its
CO2 emissions and finds new ways to measure, track
and – most importantly – reduce its emissions.

However, making the aviation industry carbon neutral by 2050 – a
target the world’s largest airlines committed to at the IATA AGM in
2021 – is not going to be an easy task. The fact flight has always
depended on fossil fuels means sustainable or, as it’s now
known, ‘green aviation’ is probably still some way off.


IATA have said that there are four pillars to achieving
sustainable aviation:

1. Technology

Technology covers a wide range of possible solutions. All are
being examined, but new aircraft fuels and new aircraft are
undoubtedly going to be the most significant.

Sustainable aviation fuels sourced from biofuels and other
sources including plants, algae, cooking oil and even municipal
waste are now a reality. However, they are not being produced,
delivered or used on anything close to the required levels. This
must be addressed, especially as IATA believes sustainable fuels
will be a key driver in delivering net zero aviation.

This is already more than a long-term objective. 

In 2019, Etihad Airways ran a commercial flight using a plane
powered by a mix of jet and biofuel made from Salicornia, a plant
that grows in the Abu Dhabi desert. In fact, Qantas, United, Virgin
and Alaska Airlines have now run more than 170,000 flights using
biofuel blends.

With regards to new aircraft, huge strides towards producing
electric and hydrogen-powered planes have been taken. The aim is to
have these in commercial service by 2035.

2. Operations

Changing an airline’s fleet is both expensive and time
consuming. While the transition is being made, airlines can begin
to improve environmental efficiencies by improving their

Carbon emissions can be reduced by better flight planning,
taking strides to lower airport congestion and waiting times, and
by reducing the weight of airborne aircraft.

Similarly, improvements to navigation such as finding more
direct routes between countries and even altering destinations will
also reduce flying time, congestion and emissions.

3. Infrastructure

Better airports will create a better aviation industry.

If airports can insist on airlines using sustainable fuels, they
will cut emissions. This can be complemented by ensuring any
refurbishments, upgrades or extensions utilise the latest in carbon
zero materials and processes in the same way as Oslo, Bergen, Los
Angeles and Stockholm’s airports already have.

4. Economics

It will be controversial, but economic instruments like taxation
could play a major part in reducing the aviation industry’s
carbon emissions. Higher taxes could raise the cost of flying which
would likely reduce the demand to fly.

Government incentives rewarding reduced carbon emissions could
also be a possibility. These types of schemes have already been
well received by other industries.

The difficulty here is flying is a must have for many very
profitable and economy-critical industries, so there could be a
delicate balancing act for governments to find in terms of
offsetting the aviation industry’s emissions against gains made
in other sectors in the short term.


So, if the technology is not only there but also being used,
what is stopping green aviation from really taking flight?

First off there is the financial aspect.

Brand new jets cost hundreds of millions of dollars and if an
airline has only recently upgraded their fleets, replacing their
planes with more environmentally friendly units or revamping their
existing units with more environmentally friendly technology will
not be an attractive option.

However, even if airlines are willing to commit to flying
greener aircraft, there is an issue around production. New green
aircraft are not currently being made in the necessary numbers.
There is, on average, a five year waiting time for delivery.

This has a knock on effect on the adoption of sustainable fuels.
If there aren’t the planes to use sustainable fuels, there will
not be the level of demands for sustainable fuels an energy company
needs to make them a commercially viable product.

Similarly, although electric planes have been proven, battery
manufacturers have not yet been able to invent a battery with the
life or aerodynamism that can support long or even average
commercial flights. This means that for the foreseeable future,
electric aviation is only feasible for local flights.

As with so many green technologies, the solution to widescale
adoption appears to lie in innovation. Can we perfect sustainable
fuels? Can we create batteries with the required capacity? Can we
produce an environmentally friendly commercial fleet? Can we build
truly sustainable airports?

We’d say the answers to all these questions is already an
emphatic yes. The issue now is to innovate to find ways of
utilising what we know at a scale that can help the aviation
industry hit its target of becoming carbon zero by 2050.

Originally published 15 August 2022

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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