In November 2020, FLIGHTPLAN 2, a large broadcast event staged by Inmarsat Aviation, highlighted passenger concerns about the aviation industry’s commitment to sustainability. High carbon emissions generated by air traffic have been a cause of general consternation. Aviation experts made it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had not lessened commitment to sustainability in both the long term and the short term.
Has COVID-19 Impacted on Long Term Programmes Towards Sustainability?
The short answer is no the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted on a long term commitment to sustainability. In some cases, programmes are accelerated due to the pause in air traffic. Early retirement of old, inefficient aircraft such as the Airbus A380 is an example. The Airbus A220-300 and A350-900, purpose-built for efficiency, are popular replacements. Despite the crisis, shareholders have agreed to the purchase of new aircraft.
Some airlines are already committed to Corsia a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. Corsia is a United Nations deal intended to help post-2020international flights achieve carbon neutrality. Commitment to the programme is voluntary. It only applies to international flights. Airlines will report annual emissions greater than 10,000 tonnes of CO2. Corsia will calculate the number of offset credits required. The airlines will use these credits to support projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, for example, wind farms. Budget constraints due to COVID-19 may delay commitment by some airlines but, hopefully, this project will be a success in the long term.
Research and development in non-fossil based fuels will continue with electricity and hydrogen the leaders in this field. Technology is the key to short-term sustainability projects.
How Has COVID-19 Affected Short Term Sustainability Programmes?
The answer to this question is not so straightforward due to budget restraints as a result of the pandemic. Technology is the key to short term improvements in fuel efficiency – a primary requirement for both economic and environmental reasons. Data analytics and efficient hardware mean fuel savings with software updates. Promising technologies that will improve efficiency are already undergoing tests. The Eco Demonstrator Programme tests new technologies at full scale to ensure they will be safe when put into practice.
In the short term, operational efficiencies will be a priority. An increase in the use of real-time data exchanges, for example, between an aircraft and Air Traffic Control, will enable better management of flight trajectories. Air traffic controllers can then optimise routes which will result in fuel savings. Inmarsat is developing Iris, a satellite communication system to replace terrestrial communications. They were nearing capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays and cancellations were frequent due to heavy air traffic. Iris will facilitate direct communication leading to greener travel through the optimisation of the routing of air traffic.
Airlines Should Demonstrate a Commitment to Sustainability
Surveys have shown that travellers do care about sustainability. They will pay more for services with a good record in this area. Airlines that take this on board and share their concerns and record regarding environmental issues will attract more customers. Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines both report in detail to their customers about the measures they are taking towards sustainability.
When Air France agreed to a bail-out with the French government, the terms included a commitment to the reduction of carbon emissions. In the short term, the airline agreed not to operate short-haul domestic flights on high-speed train routes of journeys of 2 hours 30 minutes or less. Long term has to reduce its CO2 emissions per passenger-km by 50% and reach a target of using 2% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2025.
Experts on the industry believe that airlines that are quick to commit to sustainability policies with benefit with an increase in passenger numbers.
Will a commitment to sustainability affect your choice of an airline? Let us know in the comments.