Time to fly
The economic benefit of aviation is undeniable, but so is its weighty carbon footprint.
Recently, aviation has been criticized for its production of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2018, it was estimated that the industry accounted for 2.4% of global energy-related CO2 emissions (CarbonBrief, 2020). Alongside this, the industry is also navigating a ‘flight-shaming’ movement which was exacerbated by Greta Thunberg’s decision to forgo flights as part of her fight against climate change. In response to this PR nightmare, the IATA chief announced the pipelined environment campaign propagating the industry’s past, present and future attempts to reduce its climate impact.
Also, Airlines and airline manufacturers are investigating more sustainable solutions. Airbus believes full-electric airplanes are a pipeline dream due to battery weight and range issues the company is investigating hybrid-electric aircrafts. This more realistic dream could become a commercial reality by 2025. Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce have made a tripartite agreement and are working together to develop, E-Fan X, a hybrid electric aircraft demonstrator by 2021. Evidently, the industry is already investigating how technology can reduce its carbon emissions.
Biofuel solutions are another asset which airlines and governments should invest in. However, for airlines to leverage biofuel they require government assistance and funding. The Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) sector at a precipice as where the current technology and infrastructure is inadequate according to LanzaTech. There is also little incentive to invest in biofuels as it is more expensive than fossil fuels and economies of scale are vital to airline companies due to their slim profit margins. This is why government subsidies are necessary.
It is important to also realize the critical role aviation plays in the global economy. The Air Transport Action Group estimates that aviation generates $704.4 billion GDP per year, and if the industry were a country it would be the 20th largest CDP country. The industry also supports over 65.5 million jobs worldwide and on average, aviation jobs are considered 4.4 times more productive than other industries in the global economy. Consequently, these factors highlight the significant interdependence between the aviation industry and the global economy.
These conflicting perspectives have prompted significant discussion on what the future could look like for the aviation industry. Hybrid-electric seems like the most realistic, however this will not be effective enough to lessen the industry’s carbon emissions. A significant overhaul and investment in environmentally sustainable assets is required.