The UK has the largest aviation network in Europe, contributing more than £22 billion to the UK economy and directly providing hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled jobs. It ensures the links that enable people to work, to learn and to explore the world.
In 2016 over 250 million passengers travelled on an aircraft in the UK, and further growth is expected over the coming years. However we recognise that our activities impact the global and local environment. If we are to grow, we must do so in a sustainable way.
Sustainable Aviation is a coalition of airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and air navigation service providers working together to achieve sustainable growth, reduce noise and CO2 emissions, improve air quality and secure the benefits to society that aviation undoubtedly brings.
At the end of 2017 we launched a report outlining the progress we have made over the previous two years. It showed that we have successfully disconnected UK aviation’s rate of growth from that of carbon emissions and are on track to delivering our target to halve net CO2 emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.
How will we achieve our targets?
Technology will play a central role. The UK is a world leader in aerospace manufacturing, and since 2005 470 new, more fuel-efficient aircraft entered service with UK airlines, saving at least 20 million tonnes of CO2. We have seen a further 2% increase in aircraft fuel efficiency since 2014. UK aerospace manufacturers are continuously investing in the cutting-edge technology for the even more fuel-efficient aircraft of the future.
Sustainable aviation fuels also have the potential to play an important role in achieving the UK’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions from transport. Our road map identifies the potential for a 24% reduction in aviation carbon dioxide emissions, the generation of £265 million in economic value and the creation of 4,400 jobs in the UK over the next 15 years, with between five and 12 operational plants producing sustainable fuels by 2030. Many of these initial sustainable fuels can be made from waste products, including non-recyclable household waste, offering the potential to address two issues at once.
Our airspace is little changed since it was designed in the 1960s. It does not allow us to maximise the innovative technology that is on today’s aircraft. Since 2014, 90,095 tonnes of CO2 have been saved through incremental changes to the structure of UK airspace. However, a wider, more fundamental redesign is needed to enable a reduction of up to 14% in CO2 emissions.
Market based measures will also support the delivery of our target. Between 2012 and 2015, six million tonnes of CO2 emissions reductions were made by UK airlines through the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). Our members have also long been advocates of an industry-wide carbon deal for aviation, and fully support the new carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation (CORSIA) agreement reached by the UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). It means that from 2021, airlines will be required to pay to reduce CO2 emissions through qualifying offset projects around the world, capping net CO2 emissions at 2020 levels.
Our vision for the future
Over the course of this year we will set out our vision for aviation in 2050 and beyond, looking at the innovative and emerging technologies on the horizon which could have a potentially transformative effect on our industry, including electric-hybrid aircraft.
Ours is an innovative and vibrant industry, and we continue to explore new thoughts and ideas from both within and outside.
We can’t achieve sustainable growth without the support and action of government. The industrial strategy and aviation strategy are good opportunities for government to take a proactive approach in this area. We urge the government to be ambitious and positive about what the industry can achieve, and how it can continue to support our economy.
Dr Andy Jefferson is Programme Director at Sustainable Aviation
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue