Regulators need to understand realities, complexities of achieving ecoAviation goals

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By Scott Hamilton

Dec. 5, 2022, © Leeham News: Battery power. Hybrid-battery. Hydrogen. Hydrogen-hybrid. Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

Boeing’s 777 ecoDemonstrator. Boeing launched the ecoD program 10 years ago. Credit: Boeing.

Whatever the path chosen by the hundreds of companies seeking greener commercial aviation, government regulations and tax breaks are going to be a part of the solutions.

The airline industry has a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. There are milestone targets between now and then. But will governments fully understand what’s technologically achievable in considering regulations or tax breaks? Will they fully understand which options are the best environmental solution?

Boeing developed an analytical tool called Cascade to help governments and regulators understand these issues. Importantly, Cascade takes into account the total life cycle factors for environmentally-friendly options.

The model analyzes carbon emissions for airplane fleet renewal, renewable energy sources such as sustainable fuel, hydrogen, electric propulsion, operational efficiency improvements, and advanced technologies. At the moment, Cascade remains in Beta testing internally. LNA has not had the opportunity to play with it.

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“We’ve got to be honest about where we are on the life cycle emissions,” says Chris Raymond, the chief sustainability officer for The Boeing Co. “We’ve got to have a way to take that into account. We were just trying to start to illustrate to people that the energy generation upstream of whatever’s going to power the airplane is all part of the calculus that we have to think about. That’s really why we invented Cascade.”

Cascade includes total life cycle analysis

Most of the attention today on ecoAviation promoted by many companies and press reporting talks about clean energy in operating the airplane or air mobility vehicles. This presents a distorted picture and whether the ideas are truly eco-friendly.

Raymond says that governments have got to take the total life cycles into account. There’s the full life cycle accounting of the fuel, and then the total climate effects of what happens beyond just CO2 emissions. “These are going to get more important as we go forward. For the total lifecycle, we must take into account the indirect and the direct dimensions of this.”

Figure 1. Boeing’s Cascade analyzer takes into account the full life cycle analysis for the net benefits of options for ecoAviation. Credit: Boeing.

Boeing, which has explored hydrogen power in the past, isn’t a big proponent of this option. The lack of infrastructure and the need to have fuel tanks that can accommodate H2 at temperatures lower than minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit are just a couple of the problems. Nevertheless, Boeing continues to explore this option. It’s designed a composite tank for storage and use on airplanes.

Still, it’s betting on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as the best solution to reducing emissions. (Airbus also is pursuing SAF, but it is making a big bet on hydrogen.)

“We’re such proponents of Sustainable Aviation Fuel because there’s just going to be a lot of existing infrastructure,” Raymond says. Airbus, at its Aviation Summit last week, said the world’s largest producer of SAF, Neste, is adding 1.5m tons of capacity next year. This is just a fraction of the estimated global requirement of 300m-360m tons annually. Current global production is 100 thousand tons annually. The target goal by 2030 is 40m tons per year.

Cascade can be used by airlines to assess various ecoAviation options. Legislators and regulators can use it to determine what are the best options and impacts when adopting mandates for aviation.

Figure 2. Cascade, Boeing’s analytical tool, is adjustable to take into account how Sustainable Aviation Fuel is created, the energy required to build and recharge batteries, how hydrogen is created and more. Credit: Boeing.

Figure 2 illustrates how life cycle factors can be adjusted to assess the net benefit for any given eco-option.

All options required

While Boeing favors SAF as the best option, Raymond said all options will be needed to reach the 2050 goal.

“If somebody asks Boeing, what do we think it’s going to take to decarbonize aviation? We say, ‘It’s going to take all these things,’ and it’s going to take continued fleet renewal.

“You think about the airplanes that are starting to enter the market now with Boeing and Airbus, we’re going to see some positive benefits on fuel efficiency in the fleet. We were just starting to see that with MAXes and neos,” He said. Then the pandemic hit, slowing the transition to more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendlier aircraft. With the industry coming out of the pandemic, refleeting is increasing.

“We’ve got to continue to see these operational efficiencies. As small as they are, they’re valuable.”

One area that’s been stalled for decades is improving Air Traffic Management (ATM).

Air Traffic Management

The US once touted a plan for a Next Generation (Next Gen) ATM. With an ATM that still relies in part on cathode ray tubes, the US’s system is woefully out of date. Next Gen was supposed to modernize the ATM. Billions of dollars in federal investment be required. But Congress, typically, failed to adequately fund Next Gen. Technology already is moving beyond the Next Gen ideas.

Even rejigging air routes to be more direct has stumbled under federal control. Private enterprises are stepping in, but the impacts are minuscule. Alaska Airlines has tested a system that can knock minutes off flight time. This doesn’t sound like much and in isolation, it isn’t. But multiply by flights per day times the number of aircraft an airline operates times 365, and these minutes add up to some real savings—in fuel and in emissions.

But the tests aren’t across Alaska’s system, let alone the entire US aviation industry.

The European Union touts a single economy. But its skies are anything but unified. Each country has its own ATM. A Single Sky in Europe is needed to adopt efficiencies that would benefit the environment.

Boeing, and Airbus, have common interests in pursuing the governments, even if they have different emphases. Where each agrees, however, is that there is no one or near-term solution to reducing emissions.

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Christmas shopping? Air Wars is a good gift

With Christmas around the corner, my book Air Wars, The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing, makes a good read. Here’s what reviewers had to say about it.

Royal Aeronautical Society

Named to the Top 10 List of Aerospace Books for Christmas Choices, 2021

Puget Sound Business Journal

(Seattle area.) No. 1 on the Christmas list of aerospace books for 2021.


No. 1 on its list of Best New Aerospace eBooks to read in 2022.

Chris Sloan, The Airchive

“A worthy successor to ‘The Sporty Game,’” the 1982 book by John Newhouse, considered at the time to be the definitive book about the competition between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and the emerging Airbus.

Jim Sheehan, Aviation Industry Consultant

There is so much model and OEM information that it is for sure going to become required reading for anyone who wants to understand the last fifty or so years of commercial aviation.

Loved all of the quotes and stories.

Dan Catchpole, Aviation Writer

Air Wars is a tour de force look behind the curtain of Boeing and Airbus’ global competition and, in part, a biography of Airbus’ head salesman, John Leahy, the man who forced Boeing’s hand to re-engine the 737. Longtime aerospace analyst and journalist Scott Hamilton takes readers through the twists and turns of the decades-long battle between the two companies.

Dan Reed, Aviation Writer

Using John Leahy’s long and monumental career as a vehicle for telling readers about the 51-year battle between Airbus and Boeing is both an interesting and inspired choice by the author.

Air Wars is available in paperback and eBook form at Amazon and in paperback at Barnes & Noble.


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