Farnborough, England ( Associated Press) — Airplanes are a minor contributor to global greenhouse-gas emissionsBut their share is sure to increase as more people travel in the coming years – and the aviation industry faces the prospect of stricter environmental regulations and higher costs.
The industry has adopted a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Experts tracking the issue are skeptical.
until the COVID-19 pandemic Due to the slowdown in travel, airlines were on a steady course of burning more fuel year after year. Today’s aircraft engines are by far the most efficient, but improvements in reducing fuel consumption are occurring extremely slowly – on average around 1% per year.
At the opening of a huge aviation industry show near London on Monday, discussion about climate change replaced the usual discussion on orders for larger airplanes.
The weather was favourable. Farnborough International Airshow opened after UK officials issued the first extreme heat warning in England’s history, Two nearby airports closed their runways, one reported that the surface shook due to the heat.
As airlines face climate change, the stakes are hardly high.
Jim Harris, who leads aerospace practice at consultant Bain & Company, says hitting net-zero by 2050 is now the industry’s biggest challenge, with airlines recovering from the brunt of the pandemic.
“There’s no clear solution, there’s no one technology, there’s no single task that the industry is going to achieve,” Harris says. “The amount of change needed, and the timeline, are the big issues.”
Aviation releases only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks, according to the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research group. However, aviation is used by very few people per day.
Jet fuel use by the four largest US airlines – American, United, Delta and Southwest – rose 15% in five years, as of 2019, the last year before the decline in air travel, even as they ramped up their fleets. Updated with more efficient planes.
Airbus and Boeing, the world’s two largest aircraft makers, both addressed the stability during early Monday in Farnborough, though they approached the issue in different ways.
Europe’s Airbus and seven airline groups announced a venture in West Texas to remove carbon dioxide from the air and inject it deep underground, while Boeing executives said sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, would be the best tool But not only one. reduce emissions.
Last September, airline leaders and President Joe Biden touted a deal To cut aircraft emissions by 20% by 2030 by producing 3 billion gallons of SAF by then and replacing all conventional jet fuel by 2050. Climate experts praised the idea but said the voluntary targets are overly optimistic., Current SAF production is approximately 5 million gallons per year.
Sustainable fuels are biofuels made from cooking oil, animal fats, municipal waste or other feedstocks. Its main advantage is that it can blend conventional fuels to power jet engines. It has been used several times on test flights and even on regular flights with passengers.
Among the shortcomings of SAF is the high cost – almost three times higher than that of conventional jet fuel. As airlines want to buy and use more of it, the price will increase further. Advocates are lobbying for tax exemptions and other incentives to boost production.
Policymakers see SAFs as a bridge fuel – a way to reduce emissions until more dramatic breakthroughs, such as electric- or hydrogen-powered aircraft, are produced. Those technologies may not be widely available for airline-sized aircraft for two or three decades.
Many companies are starting to design and build electric-powered planes, but most are small planes that take off and land vertically, like helicopters, and they’re roughly the same size—with room for only a few passengers. .
Aircraft powered by electricity to carry about 200 passengers – a medium-sized jet by airline standards – would require much larger batteries for longer flights. To produce the same amount of power the batteries would weigh about 40 times more than jet fuel, making electric airliners impractical without major leaps in battery technology.
Hydrogen, on the other hand, “is a much lighter fuel,” says Dan Rutherford, who leads the study of decarbonizing cars and planes for the International Council on Clean Transportation, an environmental group. “But you need a lot of volume to store it, and the fuel tanks themselves are heavy.”
Despite this, Rutherford remains “cautiously optimistic” about hydrogen. His group believes that by 2035 there may be hydrogen-powered aircraft capable of flying about 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers). Others, however, see obstacles, including the need for large and expensive new infrastructure at airports to store hydrogen cooled in liquid form.
Airlines face the risk of increasingly tougher emissions regulations.
United Nations Aviation Organization reached an agreement – Voluntary by 2026, then mandatory – in which airlines can offset their emissions by investing in projects to reduce greenhouse gases in other ways. However, some major countries did not sign on to it, and environmentalists say the plan will not reduce emissions.
Even some in the airline industry, such as United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, have scoffed at the carbon offsets that companies can get for things like paying to plant trees.
The EU has its own plan to reduce emissions 55% by 2030 and net zero by 2050, while bringing aviation under the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. It is trying to finalize an emissions-trading system and impose higher taxes on fossil fuels, including jet fuel. The rules will only apply to flights within Europe.
“The taxation policies that are already in place, especially in Europe, are going to drive up the cost of operations for airlines,” says Bain advisor Harris. “Eventually, fares increase, whether it’s paying more for sustainable aviation fuel or taxes on fossil fuels.”
Airlines also face the risk of flight shaming – more consumers may decide to travel by train or electric vehicle instead of plane if they emit fewer emissions. It doesn’t seem like many travelers are being disrupted this summer, however, as travel demand has slowed. Full led planes.
Whether the transition to fuel and planes can drive the industry to cut emissions sharply to hit the 2050 target – and whether airlines act on their own or under pressure from regulators – remains to be seen. But it won’t be easy.
“We’re not on track to meet those goals,” says Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian. “We need to get energy producers to invest in a sustainable product for us, (which will require the government to come).”
Rutherford, the transportation expert, notes that net zero is “a really challenging goal.”
“If we are clearly not on a massive uptake of lower emissions and clean fuels by 2030 and 2035, then we are not going to go to net zero in 2050,” he says.
Koenig reported from Dallas. Frank Jordan in Berlin contributed to this report.
https://www.apnews.com/climate . Follow up on Associated Press’s climate coverage,