The climate challenge is immense and the aviation industry often shoulders much of the blame. But rapid progress is being made towards more sustainable flyingby Patrick Hall / September 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Protestors disrupted air traffic at Heathrow, by flying drones to bring attention to climate change. Activists were willing to break the law in order to get their message heard. One of those arrested claimed that “any disruption that might be caused to travelers is nothing compared to the imminent climate breakdown we are facing.”
This is just one example in a line of recent events designed to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of flying. Climate activist Greta Thunberg made a point of not flying to New York for the UN climate summit, instead opting to sail across the Atlantic. Her home country of Sweden has even invented a word for the feeling of shame you may have if you travel by air: flygskam.
There’s a push for aviation fuel to be taxed, and international flights out of France have already had a tax applied to them. The idea being that increasing the cost of flying will curb demand and people will find alternative means of transport, or simply not travel at all. However, research from Bright Blue shows scepticism among the public for demand-curbing measures such as these.
Happily, they may not be needed. Climate change is a challenge of immense importance and of course aviation must play its part. The industry has rightly been tasked with cleaning up its act. But is flying really as bad for the environment as you think? I would argue not. And indeed, efforts are underway to improve things further.
Contrary to what many believe, global aviation only contributes 2 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. That is still too high, but the industry aims to reduce net emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.
After speaking to several professionals across the sector, it is clear that there are a number of initiatives being taken to reduce the carbon footprint and bolster sustainability.
Just like road and rail networks, airspace networks need to be maintained and upgraded. Except UK airspace has not undergone significant changes since the 1950s. Outdated flightpaths often constrain aircraft from reaching their optimal cruising altitude more quickly, resulting in increased inefficiencies, greater fuel burn and subsequently more GHG emissions.
The good news is that there is now a major, government-backed programme of airspace modernisation which will enable aircraft to climb and descend much faster, as well as put an end to flight…