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Environment - United We Stand

Cooperation among aviation stakeholders has led to a notable reduction in the industry’s carbon footprint

Common goals

The entire aviation industry is committed to three sequential goals:

  • To improve fuel efficiency across the world aircraft fleet by 1.5% a year 
  • To cap aviation’s net carbon emissions from 2020
  • To halve the industry’s net carbon emissions by 2050 compared with 2005

“What is unique about this is that no one has forced us into it—we’re actually going beyond what our governments have agreed,” says Paul Steele, IATA Director, Aviation Environment.

“We are the only industry that has been able to achieve a genuine agreement on global targets.”
The numbers are ambitious but realistic. The consensus within the industry is that, given the right conditions, these targets are achievable. Airframe manufacturers are delivering eco-friendly aircraft, engine makers are providing huge increases in efficiency, and all partners are involved in biofuel development. At the same time, new air traffic management initiatives are in the pipeline. Europe’s Single European Sky and the US NextGen system, together with navigational upgrades such as Continuous Descent Approaches, will make important environmental contributions. And down on the ground, airports are assisting with a host of initiatives from offering alternatives to auxiliary power units to recycling programs.

The performance of the aircraft itself will become central to the new aviation system. This important focus will allow the aircraft to automatically fly the safest, most efficient, and most environmentally responsible route available.

“Improvement in environmental performance has truly become a central strategic pillar for all parts of the industry,” says Steele. “The amount of research money that has gone into programs such as CleanSky, NextGen, and SESAR is unprecedented.”

Straight to the top

An initiative at Copenhagen Airport in Denmark demonstrates the cooperation involved in air transport’s environmental efforts. Danish air navigation service provider Naviair allows aircraft to go straight to their designated flight level without the need for leveling off. The procedure saves 10,000 tonnes of fuel and some 30,000 tonnes of CO2. 

Although the concept has been in place for a few years, it is only recently that the benefits have been proven with analysis from Eurocontrol. Computer simulations show that a continuous climb from take‑off saves an average of 200 kilograms of fuel each time, equivalent to a reduction of about 620 kilograms of CO2.

The airport’s location—surrounded by water on three sides—allows the procedure to be used in more than 90% of take offs. Usually, aircraft climb to a height of two kilometers after take‑off before they ascend again to cruise altitude. Naturally, this maneuver uses extra fuel.

Andrew Watt of Eurocontrol says the organization fully supports the development of the best and most efficient solutions within Naviair’s specific area.

Building on the success of the project, Copenhagen Airport, Naviair and the airlines are to collaborate again. “We always strive to improve our services,” says Morten Dambaek, Director General, Naviair.
“The next tangible initiative will be the launch of five new waypoints, shortening the approach and thereby saving more fuel and emissions,” he adds. “Overall, we work with a ‘green direct’ concept, striving to provide aircraft with the most direct route to their destination.”

Unlimited partnership

Biofuel test flights perfectly illustrate the level of collaboration in the industry to improve environmental performance. No fewer than six partners—Targeted Growth Canada (TGC), Sustainable Oils, Honeywell’s UOP, Bombardier Aerospace, Porter Airlines, and Pratt & Whitney Canada—have joined to test camelina in a Bombardier Q400 turboprop by 2012.

Each partner has a role to fulfil. For example, TGC will study crop optimization, Sustainable Oils will pre refine the camelina oil and Honeywell’s UOP will produce the hydro‑treated renewable jet (HRJ) biofuel from the oils provided.

The project is also being assisted by funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a not-for-profit corporation created by the Government of Canada, and Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN).

Camelina HRJ reduces CO2 emissions by up to 80% and cuts sulfur dioxide output. Because the crop can be grown in rotation and on marginal land, it isn’t competitive with food production. And farmers can derive additional revenue from their land.

“This test program gives Bombardier and the partners an opportunity to further the industry’s biofuel efforts and help reach its emissions reduction targets,” notes Hélène Gagnon, Vice President, Public Affairs, Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility, Bombardier Aerospace.

Tom Todaro, President, TGC, stresses the targets cannot be reached by companies acting in isolation. “The close collaboration with the other key players in the value chain, including Bombardier Aerospace, Porter Airlines Inc. and Pratt & Whitney Canada—along with funding from SDTC and GARDN—will help us accelerate the commercial availability and use of next-generation biofuels,” he says.

The Bombardier Q400 aircraft will be equipped with standard Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150A engines. A date for the flight has yet to be set.

New program to shorten routes: iFlex

The launch of a new IATA program, iFlex, will allow airlines to reduce carbon emissions and fuel burn by up to 2% on certain long-haul flights.  iFlex press release 

Recycling path

Environmental initiatives are about more than reducing fuel burn. On the ground at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) in the US, a recycling program is paying huge dividends in environmental terms.

A centralized off-aircraft recycling system will reduce waste sent to landfills, improve ramp safety, decrease air emissions, and save airlines more than $250,000 a year.

Airlines can now access any of the six pairs of large compactors dotted around the airport. Computer monitoring provides alerts when they are full, reducing the number of pickup trips by as much as 75%. Previously, airlines had to coordinate their own pickups. The new system has resulted in 89 fewer pickups a month and could reduce them to as few as one or two a month at most locations. The end result is fewer vehicles on the ramp, which increases safety, reduces CO2 emissions, and saves money. Early figures suggest the system will collect an additional 12 tonnes of recyclable waste a month, equal to 9% of the airport’s total airfield waste.

A key card used by the airlines enables detailed records to be kept by the system. Knowing exactly how much trash versus recyclable waste the airlines are depositing allows the airport to give airlines credit. About 90% of Sea-Tac airlines are participating in the program. “These new compactors not only help make recycling easier, they also help us track our progress in this effort,” says Jacqueline Drumheller, Environmental Projects Manager for Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. “Horizon began its recycling program at Sea-Tac in the mid 1980s, and the Port of Seattle has been a close partner in our commitment to reduce waste as much as possible.”

Elizabeth Leavitt, Director of Planning and Environmental Programs at Sea-Tac, says the coordinated effort is designed to save not only waste but also money for the airlines. The airport’s goal is to recycle 50% of its waste by 2014. In 2009, more than 1,300 tonnes of compostable material was diverted from landfills. The new project will add significantly to the numbers. The airport’s efforts have won it the 2010 Environmental Achievement Award granted by Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA).

Down to earth attitude - Approach procedures offer plenty of carbon savings potential

In May, despite a 400ft cloud ceiling at its destination, Air New Zealand landed a Sydney-Rotorua flight using advanced required navigation performance (RNP) technology.

The Airbus A320 used RNP 0.1 level—meaning 0.1 nautical miles—the lowest approved by Airbus. This enabled the pilots to get below the cloud cover, avoiding a costly and unwelcome diversion to Auckland.
The procedure also utilized the expertise of air navigation service provider Airways New Zealand. It worked with Air New Zealand to implement an RNP “AR”—authorisation required—approach, which allows the use of the most stringent RNP level.

RNP essentially allows aircraft to fly safely at lower altitudes, facilitating a more precise and efficient route into an airport. This carries a number of advantages. Not only are bad weather delays and diversions reduced but also noise, CO2 emissions, and fuel consumption.

Air New Zealand also uses RNP approaches at Queenstown, Port Vila, Brisbane and Gold Coast airports. Aside from the A320 fleet, it has RNP ability on Boeing 737s. The plan is to implement RNP procedures at more destinations.

“RNP technology is now installed in 18 aircraft and approved for operation in five of the airports that we service,” says Bruce Parton, Air New Zealand Group General Manager Australasia. “The technology enables our specially trained pilots, using advanced navigation equipment, to safely fly lower altitudes with a more precise and efficient route into the airport, helping reduce the impact of bad weather on services.

“Because of its high precision, RNP also reduces noise emissions and can significantly reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by using much shorter, curved approaches to airports,” he adds.

 More information at:

News Briefs

  • SAS approaches to the third runway at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport have been approved for RNP AR. The green approach will reduce noise impact and CO2 emissions as well as the fuel bill.
  • Alice Springs Airport in Australia has begun a solar power station project that will supply 28% of the airport’s energy needs and reduce annual carbon emissions by about 470 tonnes.
  • Lufthansa Cargo and Jettainer have concluded a pilot scheme on the use of lightweight containers. The use of innovative composites instead of aluminium reduces weight by 20%, lowering fuel burn and CO2 emissions.
  • In May 2010, Asiana Airlines flight OZ105 from Gimpo Airport to Haneda in Tokyo, Japan was designated an “Eco Flight”. This involved cleaning the engine before flight, loading the optimum amount of fuel, balancing weight, and improving flight procedures. About 500 kilograms of carbon output was saved. 
  • In March, London Heathrow, UK ANSP NATS, Singapore Airlines and Airbus launched an improved departure procedure for the Airbus A380 that saves 300 kilograms of fuel per flight.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently announced $125 million in contracts to develop and demonstrate technologies that will reduce commercial jet fuel consumption, emissions and noise. The contracts are part of the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program. 
  • From 2006 to 2009, Continental Airlines collected more than 7.5 million kilograms of recyclable materials from its hub airports. Continental is also working with contract caterers at non-hub airports. More than 91% of its domestic catering partners and more than 87% of its international caterers recycle.
  • TAM will undertake a biofuel demonstration flight in the second half of 2010 using a 50:50 blend of jatropha plant oil and conventional aviation fuel. The flight will use an Airbus A320 equipped with CFM56-5B engines.




Additional information

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