Airplanes Is a small contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, but its share will steadily increase as more people travel over the next few years. As a result, the aviation industry faces stricter environmental regulations and higher cost prospects.

The industry has set a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Experts tracking this issue are skeptical.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic slumped travel, airlines were on a steady path of burning more fuel year after year. Today’s aircraft engines are the most efficient to date, but improvements to reduce fuel combustion are very slow, averaging about 1% per year.

When a huge aviation industry show was held near London on Monday, the discussion of climate change replaced much of the usual buzz about ordering big planes.

The weather was nice. The Farnborough Airshow began when British authorities issued the first extreme heat warning in British history. Two nearby airports closed the runway, one reporting that heat buckled the surface.

As airlines face climate change, stakes are unlikely to be higher.

Jim Harris, head of the aerospace business at consultant Bain & Company, says the industry’s biggest challenge is for airlines to recover from the pandemic shock and reach net zero by 2050. ..

“There is no obvious solution, no technology, and no set of actions to guide the industry there,” says Harris. “The amount of change needed and the timeline are big issues.”

According to the World Resources Institute, a non-profit research group based in Washington, aviation emits only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks. However, aviation has far fewer passengers per day.

Jet fuel usage by the four major US airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines, increased by 15% in the five years to 2019, last year, before air travel declined. Updated the fleet with more efficient planes.

The world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, worked on the sustainability of the first day in Farnborough on Monday, but in a variety of ways.

European Airbus and a group of seven airlines have announced a venture in western Texas to seek to remove carbon dioxide from the air and inject it deep underground. Reduce emissions.

Last September, airline leader and President Joe Biden produced 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030 and replaced all conventional jet fuel by 2050 to reduce aircraft emissions by 20%. Advertised the agreement to reduce. Optimistic. Current SAF production is approximately 5 million gallons annually.

Sustainable fuels are biofuels made from cooking oil, animal fats, municipal waste, or other sources. Its main advantage is that it can be blended with traditional fuels to power jet engines. It has been used many times in test flights and regular flights with passengers.

One of the drawbacks of SAF is that it costs about three times as much as traditional jet fuel. Prices will rise further as airlines try to buy and use it more. Proponents are lobbying for other incentives to cut taxes and increase production.

Policy makers see SAF as fuel for bridges. This is a way to reduce emissions until a more dramatic breakthrough, such as an electric or hydrogen powered airplane. These technologies may not be widely available on airline-sized airplanes for 20 to 30 years.

Several companies have begun designing and manufacturing electric planes, but most are small aircraft that take off and land vertically, like helicopters, are about the same size and can only accommodate a few passengers.

Electric planes large enough to carry about 200 passengers (medium jets by airline standards) require much larger batteries for longer flights. Batteries weigh about 40 times more than jet fuel and generate the same amount of electricity, so without a major leap in battery technology, electric airliners would be impractical.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, is “a very light fuel,” says Dan Rutherford, who heads research on the decarbonization of cars and planes by the environmental group International Clean Transport Council. “But it takes a lot of capacity to store it, and the fuel tank itself is heavy.”

Nevertheless, Rutherford remains “carefully optimistic” about hydrogen. His group believes that by 2035 there will be a hydrogen-powered airplane capable of flying about 2,100 miles. However, others are seeing obstacles at the airport, including the need for large, expensive new infrastructure to store cooled hydrogen in the form of liquids.

Airlines face the risk of increasingly stringent emission regulations.

The United Nations aviation organization has reached an agreement that airlines can offset emissions by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gases in other ways. It is voluntary until 2026 and obligatory after that. But some major countries haven’t signed it, and environmentalists say the plan doesn’t reduce emissions.

Even parts of the aviation industry, such as United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, have mocked carbon offsets.

The European Union has its own plans to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, while bringing aviation under the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. increase. We are completing an emissions trading system and are trying to impose high taxes on fossil fuels, including jet fuel. This rule applies only to flights within Europe.

“Taxes already in place, especially in Europe, will significantly increase the operating costs of airlines,” says Bain’s consultant Harris. “Ultimately, fares will go up regardless of whether you pay more for sustainable aviation fuels or taxes on fossil fuels.”

Airlines also face the risk of flight embarrassment. With low emissions, more consumers may decide to travel by train or electric vehicle instead of by plane. But this summer, it doesn’t seem to be a hindrance to many travelers.

Act under pressure from regulators to see if fuel and plane changes can reduce emissions fast enough to meet the industry’s 2050 goals, and whether airlines will act on their own. I still don’t know. But it’s not easy.

“We are not on the road to achieving these goals,” says Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines. “We need energy producers to invest in sustainable products for us, which will require government participation.”

Transportation expert Rutherford states that Net Zero is “a really challenging goal.”

“If we are not clearly on track for emissions reductions and clean fuel intake by 2030 and 2035, we will not reach net zero in 2050,” he says. DAVID KOENIG & KELVIN CHAN, Farnborough, MDT / AP

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