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What’s Good for the Planet is Good for Aviation

What’s Good for the Planet is Good for Aviation

As the airline industry rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, two truths have been revealed: it must shrink its environmental footprint and increase profits. These goals may seem mutually exclusive, but the industry is beginning to understand that what’s good for the planet is also good for aviation.

Improving fuel efficiency, using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and exploring electric and hydrogen propulsion can help transform the aviation sector and create a cleaner and more sustainable future. Aviation accounts for about 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, which may not seem like much compared to the emissions generated from cars or air conditioning. But without sustainability efforts, aviation’s environmental impact could triple by 2050.

Airlines are eager to embrace sustainability as they react to pressures imposed by government regulators, passengers, employees and shareholders. Economics is proving to be the biggest catalyst for improving safety and efficiency in the aviation industry.

As aerospace companies have been working for decades to reduce the environmental impact of flight, they’ve learned that sustainability also makes sound business sense. The industry continually designs more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines and introduces innovative operational procedures that enable airplanes to fly point-to-point on less fuel.

But this is only the beginning. As an industry, we need to deliver both incremental gains and breakthrough innovations that bend the curve and address aviation’s impact on global warming. 

 

The Aviation Industry Is Fully Onboard

Airlines, aircraft manufacturers, industry associations and technology companies are committed to achieving net-zero emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Close to 300 airlines have accepted the challenge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Boeing, Airbus and other airframe manufacturers are making fuel efficiency a top priority in their new aircraft designs and fleet modifications.

At Honeywell, we’ve pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 while continuing to develop and produce products, services and software solutions that help customers achieve their financial and sustainability goals. We’ve also committed to setting science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets that include Scope 3 emissions across our value chain and throughout our products’ lives.

It will take a combination of current, new and future technologies for the aviation industry to achieve its sustainability and fuel-efficiency aspirations. These include SAF, cutting-edge propulsion and auxiliary power systems, advanced operational and airspace-management capabilities, and more. 

 

How Airlines Can Reduce Emissions With SAF

Made from renewable feedstocks that don’t compete with the world’s food supply, SAF can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 to 85% compared with conventional fuels. Airlines are counting heavily on SAF to help them meet their 2050 net-zero carbon emission goals.

Many airlines are already flying on SAF blends. Its use will only increase as production volume expands, which will drive down the cost. Currently, the price of SAF is about 2.5 times that of conventional jet fuel. Large-scale government policies and incentives are needed to stimulate production and encourage faster adoption. Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act providing higher tax credits for SAF are an excellent start.  

Honeywell propulsion engines and auxiliary power units (APUs) are already certified to run on a 50% SAF-conventional fuel blend, and we’re working to achieve certification at the 100% SAF level. Plus, through our UOP business, Honeywell has developed a process to produce a widely used green aviation fuel.

 

New Sources of Power Drive Efficiency

The movement toward more electric aircraft is the most promising development for airline industry sustainability. Today’s aircraft use a lot of energy generated by the bleed air system of the propulsion engine or APU. Compressed air provides power to the aircraft, pressurizes and cools the cabin, and much more. By using new technologies to shift those functions to highly efficient electric motors, we can make the turbines more fuel efficient.

We’re also developing electric power generation and distribution systems, fuel cells, and electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems. Honeywell has developed a lightweight, highly efficient electric motor with DENSO for urban air mobility (UAM) platforms, like for our first customer Lilium, who will use the motor on their exciting new all-electric Lilium Jet.  

Further down the road, we’re also exploring how hydrogen can meet some smaller aircraft power requirements. Hydrogen is extremely clean—the only byproduct of burning hydrogen is steam, but it doesn’t have sufficient energy density. More development is needed before it can be considered a practical fuel for propulsion engines.

 

Saving Fuel with More Efficient Operations

There’s no substitute for finding the fastest, most efficient route to help save fuel. That’s why airlines are increasingly using advanced flight planning engines, connected-aircraft technologies and prescriptive analytics platforms before, during and after every flight.

With Honeywell Forge Flight Efficiency, operators and flight crews have the information they need to make real-time informed decisions about fuel loading, taxiing and flight procedures, and gauge the impact of decisions affecting fuel economy and other airline priorities. The platform delivers up to 3% fuel savings, which amounts to millions of dollars in annual cost savings—and a sizable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even for an industry with an unsurpassed record of innovation, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 presents a formidable technical challenge. Now is the time for aviation to come together to find solutions for the good of the industry and the planet.

Mike Madsen
President and CEO of Honeywell Aerospace