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Aviation is not the enemy

ByMilad Sherzad

Feb 22, 2020

When it comes to climate change, aviation, as an industry, is not the problem. Aviation produces just 2% of all human CO2 emissions and when compared within the transport sector, aviation produces just 12% of all transportation CO2 emissions, versus 74% for road vehicles. The predicament facing aviation however is that, in the public eye, it is a menace that is heavily polluting and unnecessary. One thing we cannot afford to do, is stop people flying: we should encourage the growth of aviation but in a sustainable fashion, something the industry is already trying to do.

Don’t get me wrong, aviation chiefs understand that climate change is a threat to their long-term prospects as businesses and as such they are making strides to secure the future of their companies. Just recently, Rolls Royce announced its new engine currently in testing: the ‘Ultrafan’. Estimated to weigh 20% less than current engines and with a diameter of 3.7 meters it would bring about unprecedented levels of fuel efficiency. In addition to this, Wright Electric, a US based company, has announced it’s testing an electric engine designed for an 186-seater aircraft which could begin full flight tests as soon as 2023. 

Furthermore, the ‘Sustainable Aviation’ (SA) group, a collection of airlines and aviation stakeholders, details plans of the industry being able to reach net carbon neutrality by 2050 and has evident success from past programmes: despite passenger numbers continually rising and the industry expanding over recent years, airlines that are members of the group have managed to increase fuel efficiency by over 11% in the period from 2005 to 2015, saving millions of tonnes of CO2 from being released. Most of this is due to airlines phasing out older, more inefficient aircraft such as the Boeing 747-400. British Airways, for example, has plans to phase out its least fuel-efficient aircraft by 2024, replacing them with newer, lighter and more fuel conserving  aircraft. All of these methods, if undertaken as stated, could rapidly reduce carbon emissions and if combined with strategies such as regenerative braking or energy absorptive taxiway and runway surfaces, we could even, albeit unlikely, see the aviation sector become one that is a net carbon sink.

However, any fairy-tale story must have its villain. Much of SA’s plans include the use of biofuels, a hotly contested issue. Biofuels, fuel created from organic material such as animal waste or plant materials, are very easy to access and would reduce some of the heavy emissions involved in the extraction and distillation of oil. However, it would still act as a pollutant through relatively heavy emissions involved in jet engine combustion. Even still, despite being less polluting than traditional kerosene, biofuel research has stalled in recent years and it seems unlikely for it to ever take a commanding role in sustainable aircraft fuels. However, all hope is not lost. Just recently Boeing successfully tested their new 777X, an aircraft which the company claims could consume just 2.9 litres of fuel per 100km per person versus the whopping 9.4 litre average that the average car user faces over the same distance. What must be seen here is that whilst aviation continues to make strides, the automotive industry continues to walk scot-free despite its noticeably higher emissions.

Sustainable growth of the aviation industry is clearly possible and should be the preferred stance by the government. Whilst this growth occurs, the real target should be car travel. It is counterproductive to alienate aviation as it is trying to make progress daily and has no clear alternatives, at least on the inter-continental scale. Electric cars, a clear substitute for heavily polluting petrol and diesel cars, must be subsidised by the government in order to curb one of the largest carbon emitters on the planet. As aviation makes its own advances toward cleaner travel, one thing is for certain, it is not the enemy.


Image: David Reed via Pixabay


By Milad Sherzad

Senior Writer