The Environmental Impact of Air Travel and Sustainable Solutions

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing its finish, air journey is continually rising, with an estimated 4.7 billion passengers anticipated to journey in 2024, beating the 4.5 billion passengers that traveled in 2019. The rise in air visitors reveals how persons are recovering from the pandemic and returning to journey, both for enterprise or leisure. 


Sadly, this additionally means extra gas burn is brought on by industrial jets, resulting in environmental air pollution. Due to this fact, a brand new kind of aviation gas, referred to as sustainable aviation gas (SAF), was invented to cut back air air pollution. There are various ways in which SAF can enhance the setting.


SAF being fueled onto an Airbus A350-1000 on the Singapore Airshow | Photograph: Airbus


The Environmental Impression of Air Journey


Identical to vehicles, plane want gas to run their engines and fly. The gas used for many jet plane is known as jet gas, and probably the most generally used fuels for industrial aviation are Jet A and Jet A-1. The 2 are principally related apart from the truth that Jet A-1 has a decrease freezing level of −47 °C (−53 °F), decrease than Jet A, which freezes at −40 °C (−40 °F). When used, these jet fuels produce carbon dioxide (CO2). 



CO2 is the primary perpetrator of worldwide warming, which aggravates the Earth’s greenhouse impact, because it absorbs infrared radiation. As hundreds of thousands of flights happen world wide yearly, it’s mentioned that flying produces over 1 billion tons of CO2 yearly. This amounted to 2.5% of the entire CO2 emissions in 2018 and is the equal of 217,391 occasions extra CO2 emitted by a median automotive.


Carbon dioxide emissions over the previous 80 years | Photograph: Our World in Knowledge


A New Sort of Aviation Gasoline


To handle the polluting issues, a necessity for a brand new kind of aviation gas was prompted. With biofuels rising as the brand new resolution for environmental air pollution, the aviation market discovered the reply to lowering air pollution: utilizing sustainable biofuel for flying. Sustainable biofuels don’t use oil or fossil fuels and depend on different supplies, equivalent to vegetation, for a supply of oil. Consequently, it emits a decrease quantity of CO2 in comparison with the everyday gas that’s used for vehicles and planes. 


SAF could be seen as a biofuel that’s adequately modified to be used on plane engines. Based on Airbus, SAF can scale back CO2 emissions by 80%. A number of requirements make a biofuel viable to make use of as SAF, and such requirements are set by institutes such because the Roundtable For Sustainable Biofuels.


SAF being fueled onto an Etihad Airways airplane | Photograph: Etihad Airways


Since Virgin Atlantic performed its first flight check utilizing SAF in 2008, a number of airways have began utilizing SAF for his or her flights. By mixing SAF with conventional jet gas, plane have been in a position to scale back air air pollution whereas retaining the efficiency of typical jet gas. Based on the IATA, greater than 180,000 flights have used SAF mixtures till June 2019.



The subsequent breakthrough was when Virgin Atlantic carried out Flight100, a flight powered utilizing 100% SAF for the primary time. This flight used a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, taking off from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK). Though there have been no passengers onboard this transatlantic flight, it’s seen as a big milestone for creating and utilizing SAF.


Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic staff celebrating the primary transatlantic SAF flight | Photograph: Virgin Atlantic


Different Options for Sustainable Air Journey


Whereas SAF could be seen as a promising resolution for lowering air pollution brought on by air journey, different options additionally exist. One instance is electric-powered plane. Like electrical vehicles, electric-powered plane use electrical motors as a driving power somewhat than a jet engine or pistol engine. A well-known instance is NASA’s Helios plane, which reached an altitude of over 96,000 toes.


NASA’s Helios plane | Photograph: NASA


One other profit apart from zero-emission flight is that electrical plane can considerably scale back noise air pollution, as electrical motors are a lot quieter than combustion engines. Jet engines can produce noise as much as 140 decibels (dB) on take-off, which may trigger instant hurt to the human ear, whereas a typical pistol engine-powered Cessna plane can attain as much as 60 dB. In distinction, an electric-powered airplane can take off, inflicting as little as 20 to 22 dB.


Whereas the Pipistrel Velis Electro is presently the one type-certified electrical plane, analysis is being performed on electrical airliners, equivalent to NASA’s NASA Electrical Testbed Plane (NEAT). Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer are additionally engaged on electrical plane. Additionally, Wright Electrical, an American startup, is engaged on a modified British Aerospace 146 plane, desiring to fly the airplane beginning in 2026.


The Pipistrel Velis Electro | Photograph: Pipistrel




With air journey rising greater than ever, considerations concerning the environmental impression of air journey are rising. With governments saying zero-emission targets till 2050, airways must adjust to sustainable options for the aviation business. Together with different cures, SAF is the important thing to lowering CO2 emissions, with airways implementing this new gas into their operations.


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