European aviation will fail to meet climate change threat with today’s measures

Today’s measures to stem aviation’s environmental impact are unlikely to counteract the impact of the huge anticipated growth in European air traffic, according to a new report.

The increase in the number of flights are expected to grow by 42% from 2017 to 2040 and in that same timeframe, aircraft CO2 emissions are predicted to increase by 21% and NOX emissions by 16%.

The number of airports that handle more than 50,000 annual aircraft movements is expected to increase from 82 in 2017 to 110 in 2040 and aviation noise may therefore affect new populations in the future.

The latest European Aviation Environmental Report (EAER) which has been prepared and published by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), in cooperation with the  Environment Agency (EEA) and Eurocontrol provides an assessment of the historic and forecast environmental performance of the European aviation sector, along with the latest information on various mitigation measures.

AEF, a UK-based organisation campaigning for aviation’s impacts to be brought within sustainable limits pointed out that while it may be possible to stabilise noise exposure, this is only under an improbable assumption that there will be no increase in population and no airport expansion, with growth permitted only within the constraints of current infrastructure.

“Meanwhile the expected 42% growth in the number of flights between 2017 and 2040 is predicted to result in a 21% increase in CO2 emissions,” it said. “Alternative aviation fuels are considered likely to remain limited in the short term, and while the report identifies potential for Europe to increase its bio-based aviation fuel production capacity, airline uptake is expected to be small due to various factors, including “the cost relative to conventional aviation fuel and low priority in most national bioenergy policies.”

“Meanwhile,” it concluded, “while some in the industry had hoped that more direct routing of aircraft would deliver significant CO2 reductions, the introduction of Free Route Airspace has saved only approximately 0.5% of total aviation CO2 emissions between 2014 and 2017.”

EASA executive director Patrick Ky underlined that the industry needed to take concrete and effective action to reduce aviation emissions over the next 10 years in order to support the Paris Agreement objectives and mitigate climate change.

“The aviation sector must play its part in this global effort,” he said. “Addressing noise and air quality issues at a local level are also critical.

He said EASA, under its new regulation, can now play a greater role in mitigating aviation’s environmental impact and help develop solutions in partnership with stakeholders such as EU institutions, states, industry and NGOs.

As well as the publication of the European Aviation Environmental Report that contains an objective, accurate overview of the environmental performance of the aviation sector, the agency’s extended environmental remit now includes maintaining state-of-the-art environmental standards; certifying aircraft and engines against environmental standards; environmental modelling; research on new emerging topics (e.g. sustainable aviation fuels, electric and hybrid engines, drones, supersonics); promoting improved environmental performance and international cooperation projects on environmental protection.