The aeronautical industry continues its green shift despite the pandemic
As international air travel intensifies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia this week hosted the first Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh. The two-day event provided an opportunity for regional governments and business leaders to meet with international CEOs and regulators, as the industry aims to address issues related to the health crisis and shape the future of air transport.
The Kingdom aims to generate around $100 billion in investment in its aviation sector and make Saudi Arabia a global aviation hub by 2030. The General Authority of Civil Aviation , as part of its national aviation sector strategy, plans to increase air connectivity to 250 destinations, reaching 330 million passengers and doubling air cargo capacity to 4.5 million tonnes by the end of the decade. The Kingdom also plans to launch a new national airline to complement its existing carriers and build a new international airport in Riyadh, as well as eight new regional airports.
The global aerospace market fell to around $300 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. However, the market is expected to grow from $300 billion two years ago to $430 billion in 2025, at an annual rate of 7.7%.
However, as the aviation industry recovers, it needs to keep an eye on how to make its operations greener.
The aerospace industry is making great strides in terms of innovation in this area. Measures taken in recent years to improve CO2 efficiency have halved the amount of fuel used per flight compared to 1990. This has been achieved through technological advances, such as lighter aircraft, as well as to operational and infrastructural improvements.
However, overall aviation emissions have continued to rise as the volume of air traffic – passengers and cargo – has increased due to rising populations and incomes, as well as the globalization of business. Most of the growth has come from emerging economies, as more and more people become prosperous their appetite to travel the world has increased.
To meet the challenge, the industry has developed an Aviation Climate Action Framework to strike a balance between economic growth through travel, while the sector reduces its impact on the climate.
Technological innovation is a key pillar of the ACAF framework. For example, each new generation of aircraft produced today is approximately 15-20% more fuel efficient. Aircraft manufacturers invest approximately $15 billion a year in efficiency research.
Another area where the industry is making progress is sustainable aviation fuels. The development of alternative fuels for aviation, such as biofuel blends, could be the key to sustainable air transport. The use of alternative fuels could reduce CO2 emissions by around 80% compared to fossil fuels, without major modifications to fuel systems or engines.
Another key pillar of the ACFO framework is improving operations and infrastructure. The aviation industry is working hard to make current fleets more efficient by using new air traffic control techniques to reduce emissions. For example, continuous descent landing at an airport saves around 150 kg of CO2 per flight, while adding wingtip devices to an aircraft can reduce fuel consumption by 4%.
Additionally, airports are investing in offset programs to become carbon neutral, switching to vehicles with alternative fuels and low-emission technology. Many airports have also installed solar panels and other alternative energy sources to power the terminal buildings.
The aviation industry clearly faces unique emissions challenges as the world moves towards its net zero goals over the next 10-20 years. Without action, the industry would contribute to significantly higher global CO2 emissions by 2050 and could face restrictions that could hurt its income and jobs.
Decarbonization is a key business priority for the airline industry as it implements environmentally friendly practices. The plane is unlikely to reach zero emissions anytime soon, but it can reduce its carbon footprint in other ways.
United Airlines made history in June 2019 when the US carrier operated the world’s greenest flight, using a 30/70 blend of sustainable low-carbon aviation fuel, produced by World Energy, based in Boston, and traditional jet fuel. Additionally, investing in renewable energy projects such as wind farms can provide carbon offsets for the aviation industry. Some airlines also allow passengers to purchase carbon offsets.
Aviation continues its efforts to create a more sustainable industry. This is impressive considering the financial strains the sector has faced over the past two years due to the pandemic and travel restrictions caused by the health crisis.
Around the same time as the UN COP26 international climate meeting in Glasgow last October, the International Air Transport Association committed to carbon-neutral airline growth from 2021, with a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.
This commitment puts air transport in line with the objectives of the Paris agreement aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C. To succeed, this will require the coordinated efforts of the entire industry – airlines, airports, air navigation service providers, manufacturers – and strong government support.
The aviation sector is moving towards a more sustainable path, although it has faced significant obstacles in recent years. This resilient industry seems determined to tackle climate change and contribute to a green planet.
• Fuad Al-Zayer is an independent energy consultant specializing in energy transition, digitalization and innovation. He is the former Head of the Data Services Department at OPEC and a former Global Coordinator of the JODI Data Transparency Initiative at IEF.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News