Sustainable development – a balancing act
Sustainable development seeks to balance social, economic and environmental objectives in order to secure the well-being of present and future generations. These objectives are interdependent and thus equally important. Finding the optimum balance means that difficult choices sometimes have to be made and concessions may be required.
Aviation is a good example of this: it is a consumer of non-renewable resources, a contributor to climate change and local noise problems but at the same time it makes a very valuable and unique contribution to the sustainable development of our global society.
Our role in society, economy and the environment
Aviation is the safest, most efficient means of public transportation. Over long distances and across geographical barriers, no alternative means of transport exist. Aviation's vast network of affordable transportation services offers freedom to travel for nations, regions and individuals and facilitates the exchange of cultural and educational experiences. Many outlying communities would be isolated without access to air services.
Aviation fosters economic development by providing and enhancing access to regional and global markets. It is a key driver of business, travel and tourism exports and it creates employment around the globe. It raises living standards and alleviates poverty, which is conducive to less environmental degradation and a more sustainable society.
The air transport industry generates 57 million jobs worldwide. Its global economic impact is estimated at US$ 2,2 trillion.
Environmental performance has always been high on the aviation industry's agenda – levels of noise and emissions have come down dramatically since the start of the jet age in the early 1960's.
The world fleet has more than tripled in size over the last 25 years, but the average fleet age has remained constant at around 11 years. The "noise footprint" of a modern jet aircraft is less than 15% of that of the aircraft it replaces.
Today's newest aircraft often match the energy consumption of modern cars and in some cases – depending on speed and distance – even of high speed trains. Fuel consumption as low as 3 litres per passenger per 100 kilometers is no longer uncommon (see Fuel Efficiency).
Aviation in a sustainable context
Public demand for air travel is continually growing. Efforts within the industry to improve the environmental performance of its economic activities, however, must and will continue.
To interpret sustainable growth as "growth without environmental impact" – as advocated in some circles – ignores the significance of socio-economic values in the sustainability equation, thereby corrupting the very essence of the concept. Sustainable development should not be confused with environmental conservation; although closely linked, they are not the same. Environmental issues should be firmly placed in the wider context of sustainable development, striking a balance with social and economic objectives.