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Sustainability in air cargo

Air cargo is a remarkable industry, transporting 35% of global trade in value. The future of air cargo is reliant on environmental sustainability to guarantee the preservation of our planet. Find out what IATA is doing to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

Air transport as a whole represents just 2% of global carbon emissions. Air cargo already compares favorably with other transport modes like maritime shipping, which accounts for about 4% of global carbon emissions. However, the air freight sector has an enormous role to play to guarantee a sustainable future for this mode of transport.

Steps towards sustainable cargo

All actors of the air cargo supply chain can improve the environmental impact of air cargo, IATA specifically focuses on mitigating CO2 emissions from air transport (passenger and freight combined and has adopted a set of ambitious targets:

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels

An important step towards the latter is through ICAO’s recently adopted Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), set to commence with a voluntary period (2021-2026) after which it will become mandatory for all of its members.

IATA also supports the development of guidelines and standards to improve the environmental sustainability of aviation:

The aviation industry tackles environmental sustainability for both passenger and freight together. For air freight specifically, however, IATA adopted in 2014 the new Recommended Practice 1678 for CO2 Emissions Measurement Methodology. This document establishes a methodology for all airlines to measure the CO2 emissions generated by air cargo at shipment level.

How innovation contributes

Technological innovation contributes to long-term sustainability for air cargo industry as well:

  • Each new generation of aircraft is on average 20% more fuel efficient
  • Over the next decade, airlines will invest $1.3 trillion in new planes, many of which can run on biofuels. 
  • New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are being used to improve the efficiency of scheduling, tracking and tracing, across the cargo supply chain. 
  • Developments in composite materials have facilitated the production of lighter weight equipment such as ULD’s. 
  • In air traffic management, flights operations are improved with more efficient landing and departure methods.

Other technologies will arise to make air freight greener, Solar impulse has shown the aviation industry that solar power can be an option in the long-run, as well future drones that will be able to carry larger loads and cover longer distances. In only 100 years, aviation has continuously improved. We need to continue thinking ahead, securing the future, and creating value for a sustainable air cargo industry. The future looks green for air cargo.

Find out more about air cargo sustainability


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