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The Environment Challenge

By Philippe Rochat
September 5, 2007

The media often portrays the aviation industry as a heavy polluter, and irresponsible about emissions and climate change. In an effort to balance the debate, Philippe Rochat, Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group, presents a brief overview on the debate, and an introduction to an important new intiative created by the aviation industry, http://www.enviro.aero.


Those who receive the Airliners.net daily aviation newsletter, or anyone who follows the aviation industry closely, will have noticed the increasing trend to lay many of the world's environmental ills at the door of the aviation sector. As a matter of fact, several threads in the Airliners.net forums have asked what aviation should do about the environment debate.

One initiative, http://www.enviro.aero, aims to set this record straight. Simply put, planes just don’t pollute as much as the general public thinks they do. Rather, aviation is a responsible and progressive industry especially in regards to efficiency, emissions, and change, and seems especially so when compared to other major transportation industries.

The aviation industry is neither complacent nor in denial about climate change. Aviation contributes 2 percent of global man-made CO2 emissions, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Even though this figure is much lower than comparable industries (road transport accounts for 18 percent of world wide carbon emissions, electricity generation for 35 percent, and even shipping produces twice as much CO2 as aviation) – experts are still working diligently to reduce aviation’s negative environmental effects.

Our engineers at envori.aero have been working for years, in fact, throughout the entire history of commercial aviation, to make planes more efficient, safer, and quieter. The aviation industry has already made important and significant improvements in these areas, and we all understand that there are even greater challenges that lie ahead. There are an enormous number of initiatives already under way, from shortening routes to developing new fuels.

Many of you are experts on the progress of aviation. In fact, you only have to compare the photos of a DC-9 and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner or an Airbus A380 to see the evolution in design. More has changed than meets the eye, especially the balance between the weight and size of the plane, the efficiency of the engines, and the way airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers operate.

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Photo © Peter de Groot


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Photo © Kok Chwee SIM


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Photo © Michael Vaeremans

Whatever your role in aviation, you’ve probably encountered a lot of changes driven by environmental concerns. Each part of the aviation industry from airlines to airports to air navigation service providers to manufacturers is playing an important role. Enviro.aero highlights case studies, such as aerodynamic winglets, lighter plane fuselages, shorter flight routes, continuous descent landing approaches, streamlined taxiing operations, air navigation services and airline collaborative-decision making procedures, hybrid and fuel-cell powered ground operation vehicles, gel washes for airplanes, optimised use of de-icing formula, quieter engines, more efficient engines and even airport property management… the list goes on and on. There are thousands of activities taking place within every aspect of the flying experience to make aviation’s impact on the environment as minimal as possible.

As a result:

• Today’s aircraft are 75% quieter and 70% more fuel-efficient than in the 1960s.
• Airline CO2 efficiency per passenger improved nearly 20% in the last decade. At least 25% further improvement is expected up to 2020.
• The aviation industry saved 15 million tonnes of CO2 in 2006 through operational improvements. This includes the elimination of 6 million tonnes of CO2 through the shortening of more than 300 air routes.
• With regard to air quality, technological progress has practically eliminated visible smoke and hydrocarbons, while NOX from aircraft engines has been progressively reduced by 50% over the past 15 years.

To tell this story, the aviation industry has come together and formed an initiative to talk to people about aviation and the environment. Under the umbrella of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), representatives from across the industry launched http://www.enviro.aero, a website which serves as a central resource for the public who want to find information about aviation and the environment. Specifically, the website describes the many activities the industry is taking to limit its impact on the environment, efforts that are often ignored in debates on the subject.

On the site, as well as some great pictures of planes in flight, you will find all sorts of information about the industry’s actions to limit our impact on the environment.

Another aim is to remind the public about the beneficial impacts of aviation, frequently lost in the heated discussion about climate change. Air transport brings letters from all over the world, people to business, tourists to holiday destinations, products to markets and unites families and friends around the world. Flying allows us to appreciate the wonders of human ingenuity and has enabled us to learn more about the world we live in.

This initiative is the first unified industry activity to talk with the public about the environmental impact of the aviation industry. With the involvement of companies, associations and other organisations along the flying experience chain, this means that there are many opportunities for the initiative to expose the flying public to its messages and offer them the means to access information about aviation and the environment. We also hope that individuals who care about flying will take a stand.

Our goal is long-term — to change the perception amongst the public about aviation’s contribution to climate change, and to put balance back into the debate.

We believe that in the future, people will continue to be happy to fly, that aviation will not harm the environment, and that the aviation industry will be able to grow profitably.

We welcome your support and comments.


Philippe Rochat
Air Transport Action Group

Written by
Philippe Rochat

Philippe Rochat has been Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group since 2000. He joined the aviation industry as assistant to the Director General of Civil Aviation of Switzerland, moving on to direct the commercial and financial departments of Geneva International Airport with additional responsibility for environmental and facilitation issues. After serving as the Representative of Switzerland on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), he was elected Secretary General of ICAO and served from 1991 to 1997. Philippe Rochat has a Doctorate of Law from the University of Lausanne and teaches Air Law and Air Transport Economics in several universities.

5 User Comments:
Username: AirBuffalo [User Info]
Posted 2007-09-18 23:46:16 and read 32768 times.


It's always dangerous to advocate a point of view or specific industry rather than discuss the science.

Every player in the issue deserves a voice, but the objective observer should consider the conclusions of other sources as well.


Username: Azstagecoach [User Info]
Posted 2007-09-23 12:27:14 and read 32768 times.

I hold the utmost respect for Airliners.net. , but this is a reads like a PR campaign. Many of the articles have been very informative. Unfortunately, instead of explaining what the aviation industry should and will be doing to address environmental concerns, it cites vague "improvements" without any specifics. The "article" uses PR-speak such as "to tell this story" and even blankly states that the article's goal is to "change the perception" of the "debate," not to inform the reader of any particular concrete gains made by new commercial aircraft.

It goes without saying that a 787 will be more efficient, and therefore (one would hope) cleaner in terms of toxic releases than a 727. But really this is not intentionally good for the environment so much as good for the efficient use of fuel-- the black smoke from old jet engines is the product of wasted energy from an inefficient fuel burn.


And it should also be obvious that the total number of planes pollute less than the total cars-- and that this statistic proves nothing other than the vastly greater number of cars than planes on the planet.


These obvious facts should not be the end of the debate. The fact remains that a plane uses many, many many more times the amount of fuel used per passenger than in a car for the same distance. This is not necessarily a negative but simply the requirement for getting you there so much faster. There is a difficult choice to be made between additional pollution controls on aircraft and additional weight savings from the absence of such controls. And just as with cars, the absence of pollution controls improves performance. Both of these factors tend to favor minimal pollution controls on aircraft engines. When one also considers how little federal or state regulation exists on jet engine pollution, then it should become clear that there has been very little incentive to reduce pollution from aircraft engines, and in fact there is quite a strong disincentive to do so.

I do not pretend to know how to balance the need for ever-lighter and more powerful aircraft with the need to capture emissions. But simply saying to us "don't worry, we're on it" insults our intelligence as aviation enthusiasts.

Username: Jwenting [User Info]
Posted 2007-09-29 13:45:04 and read 32768 times.

Whatever you do (and any effort to poke holes in the man made global warming hoax is a good one) the alarmists won't believe you.
Azstagecoach's response is typical, anyone not sharing the idea that humans (and in this case the aerospace industry in particular) are "destroying the world" will be seen as being in the pay of "evil industry", without any proof provided.
At the same time they'll try to hide their own massive commercial and political interests in perpetuating the hoax (those that aren't clueless victims of the environmentalist multibillion dollar propaganda and smearcampaigns that is).

2% of human created CO2 is a drop in the ocean. Even all of human created CO2 isn't enough to cause massive environmental change...

Combine that with the knowledge that rising CO2 levels lag several decades to centuries behind increasing temperatures, it becomes clear that the industry has no noticable effect (certainly not in the way the environmentalists claim).

But that's hardly surprising as the aim of the environmentalists and their political allies is to run peoples' lifes for them, and to do that they must closely control travel (if possible make it impossible to travel without government approval, much like was the case in the USSR and still is the case in many other communist countries).
Blaming transportation in any way for some perceived doomsday scenario in order to limit and control transportation is a natural way to go about achieving their goals in a world where they don't (yet?) have the political and social power to outright take over all forms of transportation and control access through force of arms (police or military).

Username: Rv6aPilot [User Info]
Posted 2008-04-03 09:52:03 and read 32768 times.

I know firsthand that aircraft engines can be made less harmful to the environment including the air we breath- but we have to first acknowledge the fact that what comes out of a jet engine is bad and that we need to fix it.

I absolutely love to Fly. I grew up around airports. Every year we would go to Osh Kosh to see all the new inventions. What an inspiration! I helped my father build one of his airplanes. I remember working with him on the fuselage and thinking- how can we make this the most fuel efficient machine?How can we reduce any imprint and make flying more like sailing?

The industry has in fact made great progress over the years, - but we need to continue to create more efficient aircraft with less of an imprint. We have to because like it or not- believe it or not- this will become increasingly bigger news. We've got to stay one step ahead. Did you hear that Boeing test flew battery powered fuel cell technology? This is a good development. The industry should go advertise how great that is and spend money in congress securing tax incentives to aircraft manufactures who create alternative energy technology. They should not be funding and supporting websites which attempt to hide the fact that most jet engines are fuel hogs emitting cancer-causing materials into the air.

We need to admit to the actual impacts. This will only help us to create new, better technologies. We've got to admit this stuff before the politically-motivated greenies go and attack our industries.

I am not sure about global warming, but I can't pretend that jet engine exhaust is good for the environment.

I would like to honor my values of being a good environmental custodian and aviation advocate- not be embarrassed by a cover up.

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-09-01 18:21:22 and read 26870 times.

the best companies around the world are Airbus and boieng!!!

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