By BRYAN CORLISS
Oct. 3, 2022, © Leeham News: Aviation is “a key vulnerable economic sector that is only in the early stage of adaptation to climate change,” according to a new report from EASA, the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency.
To meet the industry’s environmental challenges – and there are several — more must be done to identify the hazards and risks that extreme weather events caused by climate change can bring to the industry, the report says.
The report also recommends that more needs to be done to plan for the impact of extreme weather on aircraft and airline infrastructure. The industry and regulators also need to “identify and apply ‘win-win’ solutions” to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions from airliners, and to accelerate the deployment of aircraft and air traffic control technology to improve the efficiency of Europe’s airline fleet.
The good news in the report is that researchers believe aviation could cut emissions by 69% by 2050 by adopting a suite of changes, including increased use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), improved aircraft technology, better operational practices and by using hydrogen or electric motors to power aircraft where feasible.
The EASA report is intended to be a fact sheet for policy makers to use as they consider ways to cut carbon emissions and noise pollution around airports.Its findings are similar to some of those reported early this year by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which we reported on recently.
Climate change is “considered by Europeans to be the single most serious problem facing the world,” the report says. It calls for “scaled-up collaboration between public and private stakeholders” to “enhance existing measures and identify new ones” to meet Europe’s climate goals.
The EASA report doesn’t site a specific public opinion survey to back that claim, but this Pew Research report backs it up, showing that climate change is the top concern among residents of Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and the No. 2 concern in France, Germany and Poland.
In the United States, it’s ranked as the No. 5 concern, behind foreign power cyber attacks, the spread of disinformation online, the global economy and the spread of infectious diseases.
However, the EASA report found that aviation’s climate impact was growing significantly before Covid-19 shut everything down in 2020-21.
The good news was that average carbon emissions per passenger kilometer went down in 2019, by an average of 2.3%. The bad news was that the number of flights has been increasing. Arrivals and departures at European airports increased by 15% between 2005 and 2019, while passenger kilometers jumped 90%.
As a result, the report says, “the growth in aviation (carbon dioxide) emissions was accelerating prior to Covid-19, with almost half of global CO2 emissions between 1940 and 2019 having occurred since 2000.”
Specifically, emissions of all flights departing from European airport climbed by 34% between 2004 and 2019, to an estimated 147 million metric tons (roughly 162 million standard tons).
The report expects that 37% of the carbon reduction emissions to be achieved by 2050 will come from the adoption of sustainable fuels. SAF will “play a key part in decarbonizing the aviation sector,” the report says. That’s because “they can be used within the existing global fleet and fuel supply infrastructure.”
The European Commission has proposed a SAF blending mandate for fuel sold at EU airports, with the goal of having 2% of aviation fuel being blended SAF in 2025, increasing to 63% by 2050.
But to do that will take a massive increase in the amount of SAF being produced. Right now, the report says, current supplies of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) account for less than 0.05% of total aviation fuel burn in the European Union. That means about 99.95% is old-school kerosene.
To meet even the initial 2% target, EU producers will have to increase SAF production to a level that’s more than 40 times greater than what they’re doing now. The report says Europe will need 2.3 million metric tons of SAF just to meet that initial 2% target in 2030.
There are other SAF problems too, the report notes.
Currently, global safety standards say that a 50-50 blend of SAF and Jet A is the maximum that can be used in any flights. To get above that will require changes by industry regulators, the report says, noting that committees are looking into it.
In addition, SAF are “currently more expensive than fossil-based jet fuel,” the report notes. (Anywhere from two to four times more expensive, according to other sources.)
Prices are expected to come down as more SAF is produced, creating economies of scale, the report says.
In another blow to Boom Aerospace’s claim that its Overture SST will be environmentally friendly, EASA reports that “the high speed of supersonic aircraft is likely to result in an ICAO CO2 standard metric value that is 2 to 3 times higher than comparable subsonic aircraft, and a better understanding is required on the climate change impact from SST non-CO2 emissions at high altitudes.”
The EU has adopted airport noise reduction goals. By 2030, they aim to cut the share of people “chronically disturbed” by airport noise by 30%.
New aircraft – the report specifically cites the Airbus A320 Neo and A350, along with Boeing’s 737 MAX and 787 – are quieter than the airplanes they’re replacing. These planes are meeting the new noise standards, according to the report.
The report discourages the practice of “fuel tankering,” in which an airline fills up a planes tanks for the outbound leg of a flight, in order to reduce the amount of fuel it has to buy for the return flight.
In 2018, this happened on some 21% of flights, the report says. That saved airlines about €265 million that year, but it resulted those aircraft burning an additional 286,000 metric tons of fuel, hauling the extra weight around. That was more than 0.5% of European jet fuel consumption for the year.
Overall, airlines operating in the EU are not meeting their targets for “greener operations,” the report says.