UK aviation industry plots roadmap to accommodate significant growth to 2050 without substantial CO2 increase
Thu 8 March 2012 – An alliance of UK aviation sectors committed to driving a greener long-term strategy for the industry says a significant growth in passenger and freight traffic to 2050 is possible without a substantial increase in absolute carbon emissions. The Sustainable Aviation (SA) group – made up of airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and the national ANSP – has updated its 2008 Road-Map to reflect revised traffic forecasts and the latest developments in aircraft and engine technologies, as well as progress made in aviation biofuels. The group says the latest Road-Map takes into account its support for the global industry target of reducing emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 and recognising the significant role required of carbon trading in achieving this aim. SA warns the UK government against imposing unilateral national targets and measures to restrain capacity or including international aviation emissions in UK carbon targets.
Currently, CO2 emissions from UK aviation make up around 5-6% of the worldwide total and although this share will decrease as global growth rates are expected to be considerably higher due to rapid development in emerging markets, UK passenger numbers are still forecasted to grow at an average of around 2% per annum to 2050.
Citing Department for Transport (DfT) 2011 data, in the absence of any improvements in fleet fuel efficiency or in operational practices, and assuming no use of biofuels, SA expects carbon emissions from UK aviation would rise 150% between 2010 and 2050, implying an average annual growth rate of 2.32%. Overall CO2 emissions would rise in this scenario from 33.4 million tonnes in 2010 to 83.5 million tonnes in 2050.
Offsetting this growth are a number of developments that have taken place since publication of the previous Road-Map, such as the benefits from an earlier than previously anticipated introduction in the middle of this decade of re-engined single-aisle airliners from Boeing and Airbus. SA also sees a higher level of ambition and renewed focus on European aerospace research and the rapid development of biofuels following certification of two main classes of blends in 2011. The Road-Map has also been updated to reflect the global industry’s own targets announced in 2009, the annual 2% fuel efficiency improvement agreement reached at ICAO and the incorporation of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
The introduction of the ‘imminent’ generation of aircraft types will improve the fleet-average fuel efficiency of UK aviation by some 17% by 2050, says SA, with the bulk of this improvement delivered by 2040. It estimates the subsequent generation of aircraft types from 2025 onwards has the potential to improve fuel efficiency by a further 26% by 2050. Combined, the introduction of more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines between 2010 and 2050 should yield improvements of around 39%, calculates the industry group.
Other improvements in air traffic management, for example optimal flight profiles, and ground-based operational practices, such as improved taxiing techniques and APU substitution, have the potential to improve UK aviation fuel efficiency by a further 13.5% by 2050 relative to 2010, although SA has factored in a 9% improvement in its Road-Map.
SA estimates that by 2050 the use of sustainable fuels in UK aviation will offer between 15% and 24% reduction in CO2 emissions. This assumption is based on a 25-40% penetration of sustainable fuels into the global aviation fuel market, coupled with a 60% life-cycle saving in emissions compared to fossil fuel-derived kerosene. For the purposes of the Road-Map, SA has assumed an overall 18% reduction in emissions from the use of sustainable jet biofuels.
Taking together advances in aircraft, engine, ATM and operational technologies and procedures, the combined average improvement in fuel burn per tonne-kilometre is some 1.44% per annum, of which an average of 1.21% per annum is derived from the deployment of more fuel-efficient aircraft. This is improved still further, to 1.93%, when the impact of sustainable fuels is taken into account.
SA acknowledges that its projection of absolute CO2 emissions from UK aviation in 2050 is some 22% lower than the DfT forecast and also lower than that estimated by the UK government’s independent climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, but it believes that there are bigger gains to be made from new aircraft efficiencies and is more bullish about the prospects for sustainable fuels.
Even with this lower forecast, SA projections would appear to indicate that a substantial tonnage, perhaps as much as 20 million tonnes of CO2 in 2050, of UK aviation emissions will have to be offset through carbon trading in order to achieve the industry target of 50% net reduction of 2005 levels by 2050.
Carbon trading is by far the most effective economic instrument to reduce net emissions in the aviation sector, believes SA. However, it adds, the climate impact of international aviation cannot be confined to the UK and must be addressed at a global level through appropriate bodies such as ICAO. Globally, it says, policy should be coordinated on a pathway towards a global target for aviation within an internationally-agreed carbon trading framework that would complement technological developments, operational improvements and the use of sustainable fuels.
The UK government is due to make a decision on whether international aviation emissions should be included in national carbon budgets, a move which SA strongly opposes. However, the group calls on the government to provide additional help for UK research and development, support the drive towards an interoperable European air traffic management system, incentivise the production of sustainable fuels and prioritise a global deal on carbon trading.
Presenting the findings at the House of Commons, Matt Gorman, BAA’s Director of Sustainability and the current Chair of Sustainable Aviation, said: “This report shows that UK aviation can achieve economic growth to 2050 without a substantial increase in absolute CO2 emissions by implementing a series of simple measures.
“The industry also supports the international goal of halving net CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Achieving this will not only require the continued commitment and focus of the aviation industry itself but will also rely on action from governments.”