Aviation a leader in the fight to reduce carbon emissions

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November 18, 2017
Greener Wings book on aviation's true environmental impact
Greener Wings, proves aviation is a leader in reducing emissions.

Aviation is not a pariah but a leader in the fight to reduce CO2 emissions claims a new book on the industry’s true impact on the environment.

A book, Greener Wings, proves conclusively that aviation’s true effect on the environment has been distorted, overestimated and misconstrued, and the impact of future technology on reducing emissions has been grossly understated.

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Greener Wings is the third edition of a series of books on aviation’s true impact on the environment that started with The Plane Simple Truth in 2008.

The 257-page referenced and heavily illustrated iBook details in 23 Chapters aviation’s extraordinary journey of leading the world in the reduction of burning fuel and thus reducing CO2 emissions.

Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 cuts fuel consumption
Aircraft types such as the Airbus A350 are cutting fuel consumption by up to 25 percent compared to aircraft they replace.

Just in the 11 years from 2004 to 2015, the airline industry slashed fuel burnt per passenger by a massive 42 percent.

And the five authors of Greener Wings -Guy Norris, Geoffrey Thomas, Steve Creedy, Jerome Chandler and Christine Forbes Smith – have also shown that the industry has always been concerned and focused about reducing fuel consumption because every pound of fuel that has to be carried displaces fare-paying passengers or cargo.

Manufacturers have gone out of business because their aircraft designs were not as fuel efficient as their competitors.

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However, the authors, who have been working on the complex subject and consulting with the industry and universities since 2007, say there are certainly challenges ahead for the industry and there is no question that the climate is changing.

They point out that highly-respected journals Time, The Economist and National Geographic have dedicated special issues and features to the subject of climate change.

Time stated: “The debate over whether Earth is warming up is over. Now we are learning that climate disruptions feed off one another in accelerating spirals of destruction. Scientists fear we may be approaching the point of no return.”

Possibly the most visual evidence of that fact is the North Pole, which in summer is in major retreat.

According to Time ’s article, the North Pole may be seasonally ice-free as soon as 2020.

But commercial aviation is not the pariah say the authors of Greener Wings.

In fact, it could well be argued from the figures produced by the research that if every industry had made the progress in cutting emissions that aviation has, then there wouldn’t be a problem with man-made CO2 emissions, although burning of forests remains a massive threat.

With a combination of more fuel-efficient aircraft, operational improvements and higher load factors, the airline industry has reduced fuel consumption overall from 8 liters per passenger per 100km in 1985 to 5 liters per passenger per 100km in 2005.

However, aircraft such as the A380, 787 and the A350 have taken that number below 3 liters and these aircraft burn up to 25 percent less fuel than the ones they replace.

The new Airbus A320NEO and Boeing 737MAX burn up to 15 percent less fuel than the aircraft they will replace.

And there are many more exciting developments underway – such as the Boeing 777X – to significantly reduce fuel burn and thus CO2 emissions.

Boeing's 777X aircraft will cut fuel consumption
Boeing’s 777X series will enter service late n 2019 and will slash fuel burn by over 20 percent compared to the models they will replace.

The industry goals are an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5 percent pa from 2009 to 2020; a cap on net aviation CO₂ emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth); and a 50 percent reduction in net aviation CO₂ emissions by 2050, relative to 2005.

And it is on track to meet those ambitious targets.

One only has to check the website and convention agendas of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (aiaa.org), for example, to get a sense of the enormous amount of research underway on a host of aviation-related environmental issues.

The authors in their research were disturbed by what, in some extreme cases, have amounted to the gross distortion of aviation’s role on climate change.

“In much of the debate about aviation’s effect on the environment, the industry’s impact on countries’ economic well-being is underplayed, and even ignored,” the authors said.

“While some will try and have us believe that flying is “overwhelmingly an activity of the richest elements of society”, the true effect of the airline system extends well beyond pure numbers and is now an integral and critical part of the global economy.”

What disturbs the authors was the number of highly reputable organizations that produced reports that had many serious and significant errors of fact.

One report that contains serious errors was the oft-quoted Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight (RCEP 2002).

The authors of Greener Wings were able to get agreement from the RCEP that it had made mistakes but while the Royal Commission was shut down in 2011 the website is still up and the report still available.

The RECP authors never changed the report despite the admissions that many parts were wrong or ambiguous.

“By any measure, the aviation industry has been duly focused on reducing fuel burn since man first flew because it is the fundamental on which the success of aviation is built,” say the authors.

The Greener Wings team of authors conclude that “if there are airline passengers who feel they are committing a sin by boarding an aircraft, or who feel that aviation is leading the world to a future without icecaps, then they are victims of one of the greatest distortions of truth ever perpetrated.”

Geoffrey Thomas is a co-author of Greener Wings.

GreenerWings is available for purchase at $9.99 from iBooks.