Maximpact Blog

Sustainability Takes Flight

Aircraft_Istanbul

Airplanes on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, June 30, 2016 (Photo by Caribb) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, August 16, 2016 (Maximpact.com) – Every day around the world, more than 100,000 civil aviation flights take off and land – safely for the most part. Now, the global agency responsible for overseeing civil aviation is working to improve the industry’s sustainability.

Sustainability for Civilian Aircraft,” an environmental report released in late July by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), presents the work of more than 600 experts who deal with noise, air quality, climate change, aircraft end-of-life, recycling and climate change adaptation.

This report from ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection, titled “On Board a Sustainable Future,” summarizes the progress made over the last three years across key areas of the agency’s environmental protection activities and serves as the reference document for international aviation and the environment.

The ICAO Environmental report is a crucial step that allows aviation to produce policies that lead to peaking emissions in the industry. This report allows for informed policy decisions based on sound science,” said Christina Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The report will provide a strong focus on sustainability as ICAO hosts its 191 member states and industry groups at the ICAO Assembly September 27 to October 7 in Montreal.

ICAO gathers its members in an Assembly at least once every three years. The scenarios presented for the consideration of the Assembly reflect the inputs of: aircraft and engine manufacturers, airlines, air navigation service providers and non-governmental organizations. Panels of independent experts provide unbiased input related to noise, emissions, and operational changes. The effects of traffic growth, fleet turnover, technology improvement, and operational enhancements are captured.

Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu of Nigeria, president of the ICAO Council, wrote in his introduction to the report that three years ago the ICAO Assembly, “…reaffirmed the collective aspirational goals of two percent fuel efficiency improvement annually, and carbon neutral growth from 2020.

To progress towards these goals, ICAO is advising member states to employ innovative aircraft technologies, more efficient operations, sustainable alternative fuels, and market-based measures for mitigation of climate changing emissions from the air transport industry.

ICAO’s own market-based measure is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, wrote Aliu, “ICAO’s leadership role on the environment relies in part on our historic ability to guide and assist those who wish to act to protect the environment, but who may not have the means to do so. In the spirit of our ongoing No Country Left Behind initiative, we will continue to pursue capacity-building and assistance measures towards the more effective implementation of ICAO’s global Standards and Policies, a critical enabler of our broader environmental goals.” 

ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu of China wrote in her introduction, “Delivering on an ambitious environmental agenda in response to the mandate received from its Member States, ICAO has evolved its environmental activities into a broader, truly global vision for greener air transport. Sustainable development is at the heart of our strategy…

Turning this vision into action,” wrote Dr. Liu, “ICAO’s current Strategic Objectives contribute to 13 out of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), and our environmental work programme alone contributes to 10 of them. Adopted by world leaders in September 2015, the UN SDGs are our common roadmap to transform our world beyond 2030, and global air transport connectivity is an essential enabler for many of them.

Now for the practical side – making the vision work.

When the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection met in February in Montreal, the 200 participants agreed on a comprehensive set of 17 recommendations that will help ICAO fulfill its mandate on aviation environmental protection.

The set of environmental aircraft design standards cover noise, five pollutants that affect local air quality, and CO2 emissions to protect the global climate.

For the first time the Committee recommended two completely new standards in one meeting:

  • an agreement on a new airplane carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standard
  • an agreement on a new non-volatile Particulate Matter engine emission standard

 The Committee tabled updated trends for CO2, noise and engine emissions and reviewed the technical work to date on a Global Market Based Measure.

They recommended a new publication on “Community Engagement on Aviation Environmental Management,” and established priorities and work programs for the next work cycle in the years 2016-2019.

In the report, Jane Hupe, secretary to the Committee, explained, “The recommended Aeroplane CO2 Emissions Certification Standard is a technology standard with the aim of encouraging more fuel efficient technologies into aeroplane designs. This technology-based approach is similar to the current ICAO engine emissions standards for Local Air Quality and the aircraft noise standards.

The CO2 standard will apply to subsonic jet and turboprop aeroplanes that are new type designs from 2020, as well as to those aeroplane type designs that are in-production in 2023 and undergo a change,” wrote Hupe.

In 2028, there is a production cut-off. Planes that do not meet the standard can no longer be produced from 2028, unless the designs are modified to comply with the standard.

The Committee’s report identifies these trends. “The CO2 emissions that affect the global climate, and emissions that affect local air quality are expected to increase through 2050, but at a rate slower than aviation demand.

Under an advanced aircraft technology and moderate operational improvement scenario, from 2030, aircraft noise exposure may no longer increase with an increase in traffic.

 “International aviation fuel efficiency is expected to improve through 2050, but measures in addition to those considered in this analysis will be required to achieve ICAO’s two percent annual fuel efficiency aspirational goal.

 “Sustainable alternative fuels have the potential to make a significant contribution, but sufficient data are not available to confidently predict their availability over the long term. Also, considering only aircraft technology and operational improvements, additional measures will be needed to achieve carbon neutral growth relative to 2020,” the Committee projects.

Dr. Boubacar Djibo of Niger, director of ICAO’s Air Transport Bureau, wrote in the report, “Alternative fuels are essential to ICAO’s environmental strategy and are an integral part of airlines’ environmental strategies. Indeed, sustainable alternative drop-in fuels are the only practical renewable energy option available for aircraft today. While the technical feasibility, environmental impacts and safety of biofuels have been well-demonstrated, integrated thinking is now required to accompany their large-scale deployment.

The current ICAO Carbon Calculator for passenger air travel emissions is one of the most popular tools developed by ICAO. It allows passengers to estimate the emissions attributed to their air travel on the ICAO website and on mobile applications. It is simple to use and only requires a limited amount of information from the user.

To complement the ICAO Carbon Calculator for passenger air travel emissions, a method for quantifying air cargo CO2 emissions was recommended by the Committee. This new methodology will predict the CO2 emissions from cargo shipped on board both passenger and dedicated cargo aircraft. This tool will only require information such as origin and destination.

ICAO is a UN specialized agency, established by countries in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon complimented the Committee on its 2016 report, saying, “This edition of the ICAO Environmental Report shows how air transport is well on its way to carrying out forward-looking solutions – and sets out the strategic path for even greater progress.


Featured image:Plane Silhouette,December 20, 2009 (Photo by David Spinks) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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