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Study: air traffic growth set to outpace carbon reduction efforts

Carbon reduction efforts in the airline industry will be outweighed by growth in air-traffic, even if the most contentious mitigation measures are implemented, according to a recent analysis by a team at the the University of Southampton. The paper is published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

The authors reviewed the literature associated with the measures available to the civil aviation industry for mitigating CO2 emissions from aircraft. They addressed the measures under two categories: policy and legal-related measures, and technological and operational measures.

They concluded that even if proposed mitigation measures are agreed upon and put into place, air traffic growth-rates are likely to out-pace emission reductions, unless demand is substantially reduced.

There is little doubt that increasing demand for air travel will continue for the foreseeable future. As a result, civil aviation is going to become an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

—Professor John Preston, co-author

The authors calculated that the ticket price increase necessary to drive down demand would value CO2 emissions at up to one hundred times the amount of current valuations.

This would translate to a yearly 1.4 percent increase on ticket prices, breaking the trend of increasing lower airfares. The price of domestic tickets has dropped by 1.3 percent a year between 1979 and 2012, and international fares have fallen by 0.5 percent per annum between 1990 and 2012.

—Matt Grote, co-author

However, the research suggests any move to suppress demand would be resisted by the airline industry and national governments. The researchers say a global regulator with teeth is urgently needed to enforce CO2 emission reduction measures.

Some mitigation measures can be left to the aviation sector to resolve. For example, the industry will continue to seek improvements to fuel efficiency as this will reduce costs. However, other essential measures, such as securing international agreements, setting action plans, regulations and carbon standards will require political leadership at a global level.

—Professor Ian Williams, Head of the Centre for Environmental Science at the University of Southampton and co-author

The literature review conducted by the researchers suggests that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) “lacks the legal authority to force compliance and therefore is heavily reliant on voluntary cooperation and piecemeal agreements.

Current targets, set at the most recent ICAO Assembly Session last October, include a global average fuel-efficiency improvement of 2% a year (up to 2050) and keeping global net CO2 emissions for international aviation at the same level from 2020. Global market based measures (MBM) have yet to be agreed upon, while Boeing predicts the number of aircraft in service to double between the years 2011 and 2031.

Resources

  • Matt Grote, Ian Williams, John Preston (2014) “Direct carbon dioxide emissions from civil aircraft,” Atmospheric Environment, Volume 95, Pages 214-224 doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2014.06.042

Comments

Bob Wallace

Build high speed rail. Electrified high speed rail.

Move moderate travel to HSR, reserve airline travel for long distance travel.

HarveyD

Excellent suggestion but powerful parties want to build more planes and others (as powerful) want to use them.

China and EU are exceptions with more and more high speed e-trains.

Air travel still receive large direct and indirect subsidies in many countries.

More efficient planes using cleaner fuel may be a possibility to offset some of the traffic increase.

The arrival of improved batteries (10+ Wh/Kg) and lower cost super light more efficient solar panels may make light pleasure e-planes a reality by 2025 or so. That could also offset some of the air traffic increase.

JMartin

HSR is a 150 year old technology that goes a little faster. A big heavy box waiting for enough passages that has to cross someone's privately owned farm to be built.
How about high speed Personal Rapid Transit on elevated tracks? That is more like a lightweight autonomous car with lightweight track that is a similar paradigm to a car and road, but faster, and cheaper to build. Someone just has to break the mold that contains current regulations and start it.

gorr

Years ago I use to take the plane very often but till 20 years ago I stop this habit and don't take the plane anymore, anyway I was deceive by paris, Dominican republic, so I decided to stop going abroad, I stay in Canada and u.s.a and I travel by motorcycle in summer. All winter I stay here and I save my money.

SJC

"Carbon reduction efforts in the airline industry will be outweighed by growth in air-traffic.."

The implied conclusion is that we should just give up, forget about it and walk away. This is similar to the argument on here that biofuels will not provide ALL the fuels we need, so forget it.

SJC

"Carbon reduction efforts in the airline industry will be outweighed by growth in air-traffic.."

The implied conclusion is that we should just give up, forget about it and walk away. This is similar to the argument on here that biofuels will not provide ALL the fuels we need, so forget it.

mahonj

Things change slowly in the aviation industry - they are very risk averse (for good reasons).
For instance, the Airbus A330 will fly with a new engine about 23 years after the original model fly. It will be about 15% more efficient - after 23 years !

I suppose this is because the industry is mature and airliners have always been efficient. The original A330 was state of the art when it came out, while many (US) cars of 1994 could easily have been improved as we are now seeing.

There are lots of small things that they can do (and have done in the last 5 years) - fly more slowly, carry less junk, carry more passengers, carry less fuel.

Then they could introduce more direct routing, they could have battery powered ground engines for moving around the apron, and eventually do the harder things like build carbon fibre planes or generate more efficient engines.

We might even see larger turboprops being built.
Turboprops are very efficient but noisier and slower than jets - however for short (< 400 miles) the time difference is not so large, especially compared to the times people spend in security lines. If you add an entertainment screen (or wifi) to short hall flights, noone will care how long they take.

Also, simple things like thinner seat backs can make a difference, enabling an extra row of seats without compromising legroom.

And finally, there are innovations like flying wings, but I wouldn't hold your breath for those.

mahonj

sorry, short haul flights.

HarveyD

We live about 10 Km off flight path and the Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes are the quietest on landing and take off. The latest pure jets are also more quiet than they used to be. Gone are the days of the 120 dba Russian Jets.

Secondly, turboprops are more fuel efficient than jets.
Ideal for frequent shorter local flights (1000 Km or so) without reservation.

Engineer-Poet

One way to fix the carbon problem is to burn a fuel that has no carbon in it.  The problem with that is that liquid hydrogen has a density of just 0.07, and NH3 has just 8000 BTU/lb of energy compared to about 20,000 for Jet-A.

ai_vin

Things change slowly in the aviation industry - they are very risk averse (for good reasons).
For instance, the Airbus A330 will fly with a new engine about 23 years after the original model fly. It will be about 15% more efficient - after 23 years !

Another problem is the 90/10 rule. With decades of development already behind them it is very hard to squeeze any more efficiency out of them. To get the improvements we NEED we have to start thinking outside the box.

Howabout we return to the age of the Airship for our airtravel needs? Light than air zeps with their top surfaces covered in solar cells for electric powered flight?

HarveyD

Airplanes are not efficient. Should be resgricted to over large water surfaces and be busy people etc.

See list below expressed in passenger miles (pmg) per US gallon with full passenger loads:

1. Long haul Jets up to 86 mpg US

2. Short hual Turbo and Jets, up to 91 mpg US

3. Toyota Prius III, up to 240 mpg US

4. Volvo 9700 diesel buses, up to 570 mpg US

5. Volvo Hybrid Buses, up to 700 mpg US

6. Light high speed e-trains, up to 850 mpge US.

USA has made the wrong choice with too many passenger planes.

HarveyD

Many countries are making major efforts with the construction and operation of very high speed e-train lines.

Below are the latest stats in Km (in operation or in final construction) of very high speed e-rails.

1. China with 27,000 Km
2. Spain with 4,900 Km
3. Japan with 3,400 Km
4. Turkey with 3,000 Km
5. France with 2,800 Km
6. Iran with 2,000 Km
7. Germany with 1,800 Km
8. South Korea with 1,000 Km
9. Russia with 700 Km
10. Saudi Arabia with 500 Km

11. USA with 0,0 Km
12. Australia with 0,0 Km
13. Canada with 0,0 Km
14. Mexico with 0,0 Km
15, India with 0,0 Km

Notes:

China will have more very high speed e-trains (Km) than the other top 10 countries combines (27,000 Km VS 20,000 Km)

USA and neighbors + Australia and India will have 0,0 Km

Why would be a good question to ask^

HarveyD

China will help India to develop high speed e-trains with a $12B loan plus technical assistance.

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