By Gary Mason

Editor, Airport Focus


Whenever the commercial aviation industry sits down to have a serious discussion about sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions, fuel is always the enormous elephant in the room. The reliance on fossil fuels in order to fly planes around the world and the growing number of people who are booking flights every single day particularly in the booming Asia Pacific region, keep that jagged line on the pollutant graph heading northwards. Since 1986 global jet fuel consumption has roughly doubled from 2,400,000 to 5,000,000 barrels per day.

These emissions are then compounded by the pollution generated by road traffic and other contributory factors at high capacity hub airports serving the world’s biggest cities. The only news of genuine progress on this front is that some of these airports have managed to row back on their emissions due to concerted efforts to improve sustainability including the use of electric vehicles and greener power sources to service their infrastructure.

Aviation companies and airports get a bad rap from green lobby groups but in all truth the industry is uncomfortably aware of its reliance on fossil fuels. This is as much about economics as it is about environmental ethics. Fuel is now the biggest cost for airlines – if you take a plane carrying 100 passengers the cost of just the fuel will swallow the total ticket price and taxes of 30 of those customers. For larger planes operating long haul routes that number is even higher. According to IATA , the airline industry has been forced to use a combination of stronger revenue growth and higher efficiency gains to offset the large impact of higher fuel costs. However, though the industry has made substantial improvements it still faces a degree of “catch-up” with the actual oil price.

Many carriers are now replacing legacy fleets with quieter more fuel-efficient aircraft. If single sky initiatives such as SESAR ever truly get off the ground there is further potential to make significant fuel savings globally by the more efficient use of airspace.

There is also no shortage of ongoing research projects and live trials with bio-fuels. In January last year Oslo Airport became the first in the world to make bio-fuels a genuine part of its day to day business operations. But the representative from Norwegian airport operator Avinor at the recent Airports Going Green event at Schiphol, hinted at some of the legal and administrative hurdles that need to be cleared in order for bio-fuels to be introduced into the aviation fuel economy. There is still much work to do.

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