Airlines throughout the world are facing significant pressure to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of their planes. While improvements in flying technology has cut per-passenger emissions in half since 1990, the increased rates of flying have resulted in total aviation emissions increasing by 3.6% on an annual basis. At this rate, emissions from airplanes are expected to double every 20 years. The aviation industry currently accounts for 2.5% of all carbon emissions.
However, the airlines are feeling the pressure from environmentalists. Earlier this year in September, leaders in the airline industry, such as Boeing and Airbus, have stated that emissions from airplanes in 2050 will be less than half of the aviation emissions levels from 2005. Additionally, emissions from airlines should stop increasing by 2020. These represent very lofty goals, but if they are achieved, the environmental impact would be huge.
Recently, a new study showed that this goal is actually quite achievable, at least in the leading countries of the world. In order to achieve this, old airplanes would have to receive retrofits and design upgrades. There would also have to be better air traffic management and flight operations. Luckily, these changes would not have much of an effect on the costs of running an airline company. Some airlines have already started making such changes.
Unfortunately for fliers, one of the best solutions to achieving more environmentally friendly airplanes would be to pack more passengers onto planes. If fewer planes are flying, then less emissions are produced. Even just cutting the number of flights by 2% would have a major impact.
About half of the emissions cutting could from the next generation of airplanes, which feature lightweight carbon frames. They also have wings that are more aerodynamic and open-rotor engines. Some of these features will even be included in 2016 airplanes. However, others are unlikely to appear for several more years.
Another innovative idea is having airplanes run on electricity while they are on the ground. Indeed, electric drivetrains for planes are expected to be introduced by 2018. Roughly 15% of all aircraft time is spent on the ground.
Other methods for improvement include streamlining aircraft departures and arrivals and working to reduce congestion at airports. A large amount of pollution occurs when an aircraft sits around with its engines running. Experts say that many different methods will need to work in conjunction with one another in order to achieve change.
For now, aviation experts will continue to develop new technologies in order to better the environment. Time will tell if airlines can indeed reduce pollution like they say they can.