At the recent 2019 Paris Air Show, the chief technology officers (CTOs) of seven of the world’s major aerospace companies issued a joint statement on their joint and cooperative commitment to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the aviation industry. The companies were, in alphabetical order, Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, GE Aviation (part of the General Electric group), Rolls-Royce, Safran and United Technologies (which owns Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney).
The CTOs pointed out that the aviation industry contributed 2% of human-produced CO2 emissions and that the industry had pledged itself to cut its net emissions, despite the significant increase in demand for air transport and travel. The industry, through its representative association, the Air Transport Action Group, had become the first industrial sector to commit itself to cutting its CO2 emissions to half of its 2005 levels by 2050 and, in the much shorter term, to limit the growth of its net emissions by next year.
“Aviation connects our world by efficiently and rapidly moving people, opening new economic opportunities and transporting food and goods all over our planet,” said the CTOs in their joint statement. “Aviation promotes global understanding, generating rich cultural exchanges and thereby contributing to peaceful coexistence. At the same time, climate change has become a clear concern for our society. Humanity’s impact on the climate requires action on many fronts. The aviation industry is already taking significant action to protect the planet and will continue to do so . . . We are on track to meet [our] near-term commitments, including the 2019 implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation ([better known as] CORSIA) programme as agreed upon by the nations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.”
The achievement of a sustainable aviation industry depends on three lines of technology development. These are – the “relentless” development of current aircraft and aero-engine technology and design to increase fuel efficiency and cut CO2 emissions; the commercialisation of alternative, sustainable, aviation fuels – some 185 000 commercial flights have established that current aircraft can use them; and the development of “radically new” aircraft and aero-engine technologies, as well as accelerating technologies, that will bring about the ‘third generation’ of aviation.
The industry has actually been cutting its CO2 emissions by an average of more than 1% per passenger mile per year for the past 40 years. This has been the consequence of major research and development programmes in the fields of aerodynamic efficiency, aircraft systems optimisation, digital design and manufacturing, materials and turbomachinery. “We remain committed to improving existing aircraft and engine designs to continue the trajectory of improving efficiency as much as possible.” they assured. “Concurrently, we note the tremendous technological challenges ahead of us and the likely need to include more radical ‘third generation’ approaches.”
The CTOs pointed out that larger and longer-ranged aircraft would be dependent on liquid fuels for decades, even if one accepted the most optimistic predictions for electrically powered aircraft. Consequently, it was essential to develop truly sustainable aviation fuels, which used ‘recycled’ rather than fossil-based carbon. Already, five ‘pathways’ for the production of such fuels had been approved, and one of these had already achieved commercial-scale production. Further research into cheaper pathways was under way. But increased government support for development and production investment was required.
“Aviation is at the dawn of its third major era, building on the foundation laid by the Wright brothers and the innovators of the Jet Age in the 1950s,” they highlighted. “Aviation’s third era is enabled by advances in new architectures, advanced engine thermodynamic efficiencies, electric and hybrid-electric propulsion, digitalisation, artificial intelligence, materials and manufacturing . . . We are excited by this third generation of aviation . . . This third era promises a transformative positive impact on lives around the globe – and we stand ready to make it a reality.”
These developments will be complemented by other initiatives, including efficient air traffic management and fuel-burn-reducing routing for aircraft. “Our industry has demonstrated significant progress on reducing noise and other environmental impacts and will continue to do so.”