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IATA Director General Calls for a Zero Emissions Future for Aviation

The Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has issued four challenges to drive the air transport industry towards a vision of zero-emissions aviation.

Giovanni Bisignani stated that the environmental track record of the industry over the past four decades has been good, with noise reduced by 70%, soot eliminated and fuel efficiency improved by 70%. The billions being invested in new aircraft now will make the global fleet 25% more fuel efficient by 2020. “But,” he said:

a growing carbon footprint is no longer politically acceptable—for any industry. Climate change will limit our future unless we change our approach from technical to strategic. Air transport must aim to become an industry that does not pollute—zero emissions.

The four challenges are:

Air Traffic Management: Governments and air navigation service providers must eliminate the 12% inefficiency in global air traffic management.

Cut air traffic inefficiency in half by 2012 and we immediately save 35 million tonnes of CO2. Three mega-projects could deliver real results: a Single Sky for Europe, an efficient Pearl River Delta in China and a next generation air traffic system in the US. But governments are dragging their feet. The Single European Sky could deliver a 12 million tonne reduction in CO2. But it has been a 15-year European circus of talks, talks, and more talks—with no results. This is inconsistent and irresponsible.

—Giovanni Bisignani

Technology: The aerospace industry must build a zero-emissions aircraft in the next 50 years.

I challenge the US, Europe, Canada, China, Brazil, Russia and Japan to coordinate basic research on a zero-emissions aircraft and then compete to develop products based on this research. Clean fuel is also critical. Governments have cut alternative fuel funding while oil companies are busy counting the US$15 billion in increased refinery margins that the airline industry is now paying. The first target is to replace 10% of fuel with low-carbon alternatives in the next ten years.  And the second is to begin developing a carbon-free fuel from renewable energy sources.  It’s time for governments and the oil industry to make some serious investments.

A Global Approach: Climate change is a global issue, requiring a global solution.

The challenge is for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and its 190 member States to deliver a global emissions trading scheme that is fair, effective and available for all governments to use on a voluntary basis. The September ICAO Assembly is an opportunity that cannot be missed. The relevance of ICAO depends on its ability to deliver a global solution on this important issue.

Green businesses: “The final challenge is for airlines to implement green strategies across the business. IATA is developing IATA Project Green to help airlines implement global best practice Environmental Management Systems. This will place environment alongside safety and security as a core promise to our 2 billion passengers,” said Bisignani.

This will not be achieved overnight. And nobody has all the answers. But the airline industry was born by realizing a dream that people could fly. We can already see the potential building blocks for a carbon-free future: fuel cell technology, solar powered aircraft and fuel made from biomass. By working together with a common vision, a green industry is absolutely achievable.

Bisignani cautioned that governments are too easily sidetracked. “Politicians think green and see cash. In the name of the environment, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown doubled the Air Passenger Duty. The environment has not benefited, but airlines and their passenger are paying a billion pounds for his green credentials. And Europe is rushing to include aviation in emissions trading at the same time as governments are looking at carbon offsets. The policies are schizophrenic. We have had enough PR. It’s time to deliver some real results,” said Bisignani.



Zero emissions aircraft? Good luck! Still at least they're responding to pressure and trying something...Or at least thinking about trying something.


Solar blimp?


I like it! Go back to the golden age of flying. Take things slowly. Unfortunately helium is quite energy intensive and we're running out apparently:

Bud Johns

Solar blimp...I'm still laughing! However, good point, that would be your best bet for zero emissions. Actually, they should shoot for that, and in the end come as close as possible to zero. It can be improved to a doable amount...........


Zero emissions= pie in the sky goal but gotta have a goal!
Streamlining air traffic control= DO IT NOW!

Why hasn't the press reported any of this! Why isn't any of this in the mainstream news? Press is the only thing besides "green money" that politicians listen to.


It is surprising they don’t mention the use of hydrogen powered jet engines. This is not only possible in fact the very first jet engines were powered by hydrogen. Boeing and Airbus should both develop hydrogen powered airplanes. They will be completely emission free and carbon neutral. Hydrogen can be stored in liquid cooled form in insulated tanks on the airplane. And hydrogen can be produced at low cost from electrolyse using cheap wind turbine electricity. They should be able to develop such airplanes before 2020. At that time electricity from wind will cost less than 3c per kWh. That would imply a hydrogen cost of US$1,5 per kilo for the needed 50 kWh. The electrolyse factory will also cost something. The total price of hydrogen should cost no more than $2,5 per kg which is competitive with the present price of fossil aviation fuel which is likely to be even more expensive in 2020.


Interesting idea to go the liquid route. I wonder how much the insulation would weigh? They could speed up ground handling so you don't get too much boiloff at ground level and then once you're up at 40,000ft the ambient temperature's -50C anyway so it should reduce a fair bit.


Scatter the weight of the insulation is not a problem. BMW use an insulated liquid H2 tank for their ICE hydrogen car. I think they used a super insulation material where 1/2 inch did as well as 33 feet of standard building insulation. Problem with the BMW car is that the hydrogen still evaporates so you need to use the car or the tank will empty itsels in a week or two. This is of cause not at all a problem for commercial airplanes that are used 7/24.


Interesting. Liquid hydrogen has about a third of the energy density of Jet A but about a tenth of the density so that's another factor in its favour. Definitely something to ponder.


Zero Emissions Aircraft (ZEA): the answer is Electrogravitics. TT Brown, Searle, Serrano, Cox - the B2 bomber is an AG aircraft. is quite good.

But the military will do anything to stop mere civilians from having it.


Something nobody in the Airline Industry seems to think much about is what will happen when Oil Production Peaks and fuel prices go up and up and up (over short periods of time). 50% of an airlines cost of flying their plane is fuel (that was prior to the runup of fuel over the last year or two).

Run the fuel up much more and many people who can fly now won't be able to (tickets will get too expensive) - if oil really goes up in the future, the airlines won't have to worry about a growing or static carbon footprint, as it will shrink all on its own due to fuel prices.

The Aircraft Manufacturers should think about this as well, since the market would get flooded with used aircraft just as or close to being as efficient as the new ones they make, but at very reduced prices (who would want to buy new ones in that market).


If you can get hydrogen to fly in aircraft, then you have the advantage that the required infrastructure for airports would be much more centralized than for LDVs.

Zero emissions aircraft? Good luck! Still at least they're responding to pressure and trying something...Or at least thinking about trying something.

They're talking about using renewable fuels where the carbon in the fuel has been recently taken out of the atmosphere.

In the 30-50 year time frame, we might see exotic fusion powered planes or something else we haven't thought of yet. But zero-net-carbon bio-jet fuel is a near-term possibility compatible with existing aircraft.


Yeah, zero-emission air travel by blimp! Propel it with oars! Row upon row of oars and galley slaves and one big, mean-looking guy beating time on a drum. :-)


Nah.. Just pack that puppy full of EESTOR batteries and use ion jets and throw away the oars.


Well they could just use biofuels, would require the least amount of infrastructure change.

Hydrogen would require grossly oversized fuel tanks: it’s why most rockets don’t use hydrogen for their first stage, because it’s not worth its weight and drag in giant fuel tanks.

Does zero-emission mean no NOx? Because if it does it completely removes the use of turbines: even burning hydrogen there is still significant NOx production. You can’t travel very fast on electric propellers.

Ionocrafts require too much energy per mass to fly even for EESTOR (assuming EESTOR works as promised)

Anti-gravity is fringe science and there no evidence that it will be a viable means of propulsion anytime soon (or ever).

Laser/Mazer propulsion would require massive amounts of electrical power and would still produce NOx and O3 from plasmafied air but it would be faster then jets (Mach 25!) and allow for trips into space.

I like the solar blimp idea: not only is it clean but also it requires no energy its just going to be really really slow.


It's likely that future aircraft will be blended wing body so there should be quite a lot more space for fuel than in current designs.

I just find it hard to believe that we'll be able to produce enough biofuels to keep cars and aircraft running without serious impacts on the environment or food production or both. We're talking about growing a LOT of fuel here.


Why not have cars run off electricity (BEV) and keep preciously rare liquid fuels for things that have no alternative (like jet airplanes and helicopters). There was just recently a article about it here:
replacing jet fuel would only require replacing 6% of the worlds oil market and would not need to use food feedstock (algea)


Well that's what I reckon should happen too but it's not going that way unfortunately.


When peak oil hits don't worry it will cost to much to transport food even if it was not being made into biodiesel, ethanol, etc. Us Americans will have run off our ample supply of body fat for awhile, either that or go vegetarian (animals require ten times as much food as they produce).


Why can't you go fast on electric propellers? Electric motors are certainly up to the task of avian propulsion. They've got the high RPM, torque and power characteristics, reliability and serviceability that airplanes require. If we can figure out how to pack enough electric energy storage into a plane, we should be set (just like cars!).

Stan Peterson

Its nice that someone is addressing reducing pollution from air vehicles. Every little bit helps. Continuous combustion engines operating at high temperatrures as jet turbines do, are pretty efficient now, and are getting even more so. There are gains to be had in improving ground handling, including externally powered towing planes to the flightline. There are efficiency improvements to be made in reducing circling due to congestion.

Its a lttle stupid to postulate not having fuels available even using engineered fuels though. The world will NEVER run out of liquid hydrocarbon fuel even if it is manufactured to specification, as any Engineer wil tell you is coming for certain applicationsand some is here already (JP9). Even now ethanol provides about 10% of current ground transport needs. That alone more than suffices ot supply all air transport needs.

So the peakist worries are quite unneccesary.

Eighty pecent of oil consumption is used by transportation. The other 20% is consumed for two primary uses, space heating and chemical production. Space heating can be substituted and replaced by electrical methods and the remaining 12% or so is used for the only valid uses in creating chemicals, medicines, and polymers. This 12% chemical usage is not even polluting, or burned, contributing little atmospheric CO2 in theory. The requirement for liquid hydrocarbons is not definete even then; substitution and and direct use of hydrocarbon gasses and solids is quite feasible in many cases.

Of the 80% that is used for transportaion more than 80%% is used in ground transport the other less than 20% or so in air and marine applilcations. Marine needs to be cleaned and there is no reason why it can't be done.

So you could substitute for virtually all the anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 release. Even if you think that CO2 is that important, which is patently ridiculous. There was little problem with "global warming" until or unless the output is fairly large.

Incidently Boeing has already converted a large plane to hydrogen as a demonstration. A jetliner was equipped wiht a hydrogen tank on its back. The pictures showed it be slightly larger than the Shuttle piggybacking on its 747. The plane flew, but I'm sure any gains from hydrogen was ephemeral and non-existant.


It's a wonderful world! Business as usual, houses and white picket fences for the kids, and winter holidays in the sun! But somehow I can't get the picture from my mind that the only way there ever will be a zero emission airline industry is if there is a zero airline industry. So does that mean we have to change the way we live or is that non-negotiable. Besides, I will just buy carbon credits for my corporate jet anyways!

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