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Sustainability And Airlines

Aviation plays a crucial role in the modern world. Fast air transportation not only helps people stay connected to their loved ones, explore the world or do business, but also supports many industries with high importance for our society. While only 0.5% of the world shipments are carried by air, their value exceeds 35%. Our modern globalized world would not be possible without the aviation industry.

The Environmental Impact of Aviation

While the value of aviation is unquestonable, it is also a major source of emissions. ICAO claims that the aviation industry is responsible for 2% of the man-induced CO2 emissions. Out of those two percent, 65% are coming from international aviation. However, aviation’s share is projected to increase to 18% by 2050. ATAG points out that if aviation was a country, it would have been the sixth biggest CO2 emitter. At the same time, it would have been ranked 20th in the world by GDP. 

Due to its high profile, aviation is perceived as a major contributor to climate change, which results in public pressure, for example for governments to curb emissions. It could also manifest at the individual level, as “shaming” or reluctance to fly. Often, this is evident among younger generations.

Flying Shame and Carbon Emissions

The term “flying shame” became widely-used emerged few years ago when the environmental activist Greta Thunberg started actively promoting preserving the planet and avoid flying as much as possible. Ever since her supporters around the world are continuously increasing with thousands of strikes being held in numerous countries. Flight Free 2020 campaign in the UK and other initiatives in Canada, France and Belgium are another example of the trend of switching from travelling by plane to train. 

IATA: More Sustainable Aviation by 2020

Such tendencies can have a detrimental impact on the passenger demand. Therefore, the aviation industry needs to take actions. Many airlines around the world already take measures to mitigate their environmental impact. They apply various techniques to improve fuel efficiency, reduce waste on board, cut duty free sales to reduce weight, use more sustainable materials, serve more environmentally friendly meals, invest in sustainable aviation fuels, offset emissions. IATA has set the following sustainability targets for airlines:

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels

These goals put further pressure on airlines to implement more sustainable initiatives not only to remain competitive in the market but also contribute to the overall sustainability of the industry. Governments are not sitting idly either. Even in the last 18 months, several governments have proposed legislation aimed at stricter controls on aircraft emissions, popularly called “green taxes”.

How Can Airlines Become More Sustainable?

The short answer is through technology. One clear example for a technology that has improved efficiency is newer aircraft models with more efficient design and more economic engines. Of course, there isn’t a major airline in the world that could change their whole fleet to the most modern aircraft within an year, or even five. In addition to new technologies having high adoption cost, there are numerous examples of innovations that couldn’t be supported by current business models or because of the changing business environment. At its introduction in 2007, Airbus A380 was the undisputed champion of fuel efficiency, yet there are no new orders and Airbus is shutting down the program after the delivery of the current backlog.

In aviation, the fastest innovation often happens in areas which are not heavily regulated by governments. Honeywell is actively engaged in innovative technology: from UAM to data analytics, from participation into numerous climate change events to producing alternative jet fuel. Honeywell’s process technology allows refineries to produce Green Jet Fuel, which can enable 65-85% lower greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis. Honeywell’s technologies also can enable production of Green Diesel, which can generate an 85% reduction in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from road, rail, and shipping transportation.

Alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are high-global-warming-potential molecules used commonly in refrigerants and other applications. If left unmitigated, for example, air-conditioning refrigerants would contribute 20-25% of global warming by 2050.

Honeywell has pioneered a new generation of low-global-warming-potential hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) refrigerants, aerosols, solvents, and blowing agents – branded as Solstice® – that can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions impact of current offerings on the market by more than 99%. Honeywell’s Solstice portfolio has already helped customers avoid discharging the equivalent of over 150 million metric tons of CO2.”

One of the areas, where the pace of innovation has been the highest is in big data, data analytics, and platforms that allow multiple stakeholders – both people and systems – to leverage data and insights.

The Power of Flight Data

One new area in which Honeywell has been leading the way for more than a decade is analisys of post-flight data.

Honeywell Forge is a powerful flight data alanytics platform that analyzes and unlocks critical performance and operational indicators in flight efficiency, maintenance, safety, block time analysis, ground turn optimization. This empowers airlines to improve operational inefficiencies quickly.

Historical development of aircraft efficiency

During the past few years the aviation industry experienced a massive progress in aircraft efficiency. According to ATAG, modern aircrafts are more than 80% more fuel efficient per seat kilometer than those in 1960. Additionally, IATA claims that fuel efficiency has increased by 30% since 2010 due to more efficient aircraft components, engines, wings and modular designs.

Aircraft design has changed substantially in the past few years. Modern aircrafts built from composite materials like Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 XWB open room for more fuel savings due to reduced empty weight. Nowadays, aircrafts are more aerodynamical due to numerous improvements such as wingtips. Engines are also more efficient as their actual combustion use has been reduced. 

Honeywell has also been devoted to producing more efficient, reliable and high-performance engines for local, international, agricultural and military aviation since 1953.

How far on the sustainability agenda are we currently?

The picture below represents the pace in which the industry has developed in recent years. What is evident is that not only aviation develops much faster than the world GDP but is also an important factor for it. Additinally, a correlation between international aviation and world trade can be found.

Source IATA Vision 2050

Since 1970 the Revenue Passenger Kilometers increased 10 times. This is a much quicker development compared to the world GDP.

In order to continue its development and contribution to the world’s economy, the aviation industry needs to take drastic measures to mitigate its environmental impact. Aviation has already commited to few targets addressing climate:

  • Improvement of the fuel efficiency from 2009 until 2020 by 1.5% per year
  • Carbon-Neutral Growth from 2020
  • A reduction in CO2 emissions by 50% compared to 2005.

There are numerous organizations reporting on sustainability and setting sustainable targets:

  • International Air Transport Association: The Association addresses current and future environmental issues through various policies and programs
  • International Civil Aviation Organization has a basket of measures to mitigate aviation’s impact on the environement, which includes technology developments, standards, operational improvements, CORSIA and sustainable aviation fuels.
  • International Council on Civil Transportation deals with the clean development of all transport modes. The organization provides a number of papers on sustainable topics from the aviation perspective such as fuel efficiency rankings, alternative jet fuels, long-term aviation decarbonization, international aviation emissions mitigations.
  • Air Transport Action Group is non-profit association representing all sectors of the aviation industry and promoting aviation’s sustainable growth. The association addresses topics like climate change, sustainable development and sustainable aviation fuels.
  • European Environmental Agency’s  target is to support the sustainable aviation development by providing relevant environmental information to the public and policymakers.
  • International Energy Agency promotes policies, which aim to improve the sustainability of energy like oil, gas, coal and renewables.

Reducing emissions with EU ETS and CORSIA

The European Emissions Trading Scheme aims to fight climate change and to reduce emissions. It covers heavy energy-using installations and airlines operating within the European Union. It is a ‘cap and trade’ system, where companies receive emissions allowances, which they can trade between each other or surrender when producing emissions. As a result, every year airlines need to track and report their emissions, which can be time-consuming, especially when reporting emissions from flights, which departure or arrival airport is outside of the European Union.

Honeywell Forge Flight Efficiency supports airlines in their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint and provides a module, which helps airlines track and report their emissions. The powerful tool provides numerous benefits such as:

  • Compliance with the EU-ETS regulations
  • High data-quality and verification according EU requirements
  • Flexible customization options- according to the airline’s needs and monitoring plan
  • Various runtime reports available for internal and external reporting
  • Flight information is available runtime even to the finest level of detail
  • Support for wet lease flights
  • Capability to run reports over archived data

In order to meet aviation’s environmental targets, ICAO adopted CORSIA in 2016. It is an offsetting scheme and addresses international aviation. To comply with ICAO, aircraft operators producing more than 10,000 tonnes of CO2 must monitor and report their emissions. It is assumed that CORSIA will avoid 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from 2021 to 2035.

Honeywell Forge Flight Efficiency recently included a CORSIA module, so that airlines can monitor and report their emissions and use Honeywell’s powerful tool for emission verification to third-parties.

Future development of the aviation industry

Despite the challenges the aviation industry is facing, it is projected to continue to grow in the next years. IATA predicts 16 billion passengers and 400 million tonnes of cargo to be flown in 2050. 

The picture below represents three different scenarios for passengers growth.

Source: https://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/pr/2018-10-24-02/

As can be seen, the passenger traffic development will shift towards Asia-Pacific, while the development in European and US markets will slow down as they are more mature markets. China is forecasted to become the largest passenger market. India is projected to develop vastly in the next years and move from number seven to number three.  

As a consequence from the increase of traffic, aviation emissions will also increase. ICAO forecasts aviation emissions to triple by 2050. At the same time ICCT claims that the actual annual compound growth rate of emissions in the recent years is 70% than the one ICAO used when calculating that emissions will triple by 2050. Other experts estimate that emissions will continue to increase at a rate of 3-4% per year.

The picture below demonstrates the share of passenger CO2 emissions and carbon intensity in 2018 by stage length.

Source: The International Council on Clean Transportation. (2019). CO2 emissions from commercial aviation, 2018.

What can the aviation industry do?

The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, stated: “We need to get grips with commercial aviation greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of our children and our fragile environment.” 

Below are few possible scenarios of aviation initiatives and the increase of CO2 emissions associated with each scenario.

There are various options that can be undertaken in order for the aviation industry to mitigate its environmental impact. As can be seen from the picture, CO2 emissions are projected to increase dramatically in the next 30 years If no actions are taken. ICAO forecasts over 300% growth in emissions in such scenario. Numerous measures are already taken such as enhanced aircraft technology, operational and infrastructural development, which positions us in the yellow area. What is evident is that significant reductions in emissions, which is a key to the future continuous growth of the industry, can only be achieved from biofuels and new technologies. However, radically new technology such as hybrids, electric aircrafts, fuel cells, sustainable aviation fuels or nanotechnology are still some years ahead before reaching maturity.

Innovative technologies are already underway. Last year Honeywell announced its first hybrid-electric turbogenerator, which will be installed on the first generation of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. It is estimated that the generator will decrease carbon emissions between 30 and 50 percent compared to the HTS900 engine. This hybrid engine will contribute to a quieter, safer and cleaner future transportation.

Honeywell UOP produces drop-in alternative jet fuel. The alternative fuel has a high blend ration compared to what is currently developed in the market for sustainable fuels, can reduce emissions up to 85% and a has lower fuel density, while meeting the reliability requirements of traditional jet fuel.

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