Aviation & Environment Briefs: More needs to be done now, not by 2050

Industry clamours to promote its green credentials, but most scientists say it’s too little too late, especially in light of the weak COP26 agreement

(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

CFMPity the people, not the planet. The aviation industry has spent considerable time and effort to prove its environmental credentials and while its incremental steps are to be applauded, they are not anywhere near enough to have a real effect in cutting CO2 emissions or “saving the planet”. That’s bad news for the human race. We are likely already well on the road to the extinction of mankind because of our poor stewardship of Mother Nature. The goods news is that Planet Earth will outlive us all and when mankind is gone for good in 200 or 300 years at the rate we’re going, the earth will have millions of years to recover and replenish itself.

If that sounds cynical, one only has to look at the sideshow of COP26 that just wrapped up in Scotland. Despite the drawing power of Hollywood movie stars, famous climate activists, and politicians of one stripe or another, the agreement announced in Glasgow falls far short of what is needed to actually make a difference. The new deal, everyone admitted, will not solve the climate crisis, but depends “on whether world leaders now follow through with new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions”, according to the New York Times. If we have to depend on “world leaders” to actually solve this problem, we really are doomed. But again, it’s “we” the people who are doomed, the earth will live on once we’re gone.

As we’ve written before in Asian Aviation, the industry needs to do more and do it faster. The moves the industry are making are commendable, but not enough. Some of the latest moves are outlined below.

IATA welcomes commitments at COP26

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the commitments towards strengthening climate action made at COP26, and called on the global efforts to decarbonise aviation to be supported with practical, effective government policies, the association said. Management of international aviation’s climate commitments sits outside of the COP process and is the responsibility of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Nevertheless, airlines at the 77th IATA AGM in Boston, October, agreed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the stretch Paris agreement target to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“Airlines are on the pathway to net-zero carbon emissions, in line with the Paris agreement. We all want the freedom to fly sustainably. Reaching net-zero emissions will be a huge task requiring the collective effort of industry and support from governments. The pledges made at COP26 show that many governments understand the key to rapid progress is to incentivize technological change and fund innovative solutions. This is particularly true of sustainable aviation fuels, which will play a major role in addressing aviation’s environmental impact—they need the right incentives from governments to ramp-up production,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

A notable outcome from COP26 was the move by 23 nations to sign the International Aviation Climate Ambition Declaration. The declaration recognises the need for aviation to “grow sustainably” and reiterates ICAO’s role to implement short, medium and long-term climate goals for the industry. Ensuring the maximum effectiveness of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), and the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are key aims of the declaration.

ICAO Council approves CORSIA sustainability criteria

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The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council approved new Sustainability Criteria for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) eligible under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), together with the compliance assessment guidance. By making use of aviation fuels which meet the new Sustainability Criteria for SAF life-cycle CO2 reduction benefits and other environmental and socio-economic themes, aircraft operators engaged in international flights can claim associated reductions in their CORSIA CO2 offsetting requirements.

“This approval should incentivise the production of SAF so that they can fulfil their important role in aviation’s green transition, and it also emphasises the continuing importance of pursuing a globally harmonised approach to mitigating emissions from international aviation operations,” commented ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano.

The approval of the SAF Sustainability Criteria was complemented by additional CORSIA decisions and progress by the council regarding its pandemic impact analysis for 2022 CORSIA periodic review, and updates to the CORSIA eligible emissions units, as well as the 2022 process for the Organization’s work on the feasibility of a long-term aspirational goal (LTAG) for international aviation toward the next ICAO Assembly.

Airbus, partners demo formation flying effects on emissions

(IMAGE: Airbus)

Airbus has performed the first long-haul demonstration of formation flight in general air traffic (GAT) regulated transatlantic airspace with two A350 aircraft flying at three kilometres apart from Toulouse, France to Montreal, Canada. The aircraft were greeted at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. Over 6 tons of CO2 emissions were saved on the trip, confirming the potential for more than a 5 percent fuel saving on long-haul flights.

The “final demonstration” test flight took place on 9 November 2021 involving two A350 test aircraft, MSN1 and MSN59, the former as the leader aircraft and the latter as the follower. This was made possible with flight control systems developed by Airbus which position the follower aircraft safely in the wake updraft of the leader aircraft allowing it to reduce engine thrust and reduce fuel consumption. A similar principle can be observed with large migrating birds such as geese, which fly together in a distinct V-shaped formation.

Sabine Klauke, chief technical officer at Airbus, said “This demonstration flight is a concrete example of our commitment to making our decarbonisation roadmap a reality. It also speaks to how collaboration across the industry will be key to making this happen. We have received a strong level of support for this project from our airline and air traffic partners, plus regulators. The opportunity to get this deployed for passenger aircraft around the middle of this decade is very promising. Imagine the potential if fello’fly was deployed across the industry.”

Pilots from Airbus partner airlines SAS Scandinavian Airlines and Frenchbee witnessed the transatlantic flight onboard as observers. The flight was made possible by Airbus and its air traffic management partners and navigation service providers (DSNA, NATS, NAV CANADA, Eurocontrol and IAA), with the support of the DGAC, who together proved that wake energy retrieval flight technology leveraged in a fello’fly flight can be achieved without compromising safety. The demonstration also shows how fello’fly operations could significantly boost environmental performance of commercial aircraft and contribute to the aviation industry’s decarbonisation targets in the immediate term. The next step is to get the support of the authorities so that this new operational concept can be certified, and ultimately enable airlines to reduce their fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

First Airbus helicopter flight with 100% sustainable aviation fuel

(PHOTO: Airbus Helicopters)

An Airbus H225 has performed the first helicopter flight with 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) powering one of the Safran Makila 2 engines. The flight, which took place at the company’s headquarters in Marignane, marks the start of a flight campaign aiming to assess the impact of unblended SAF on the helicopter systems in view of certifying the use of SAF blends that exceed today’s 50 percent limit.

“While all Airbus helicopters are certified to fly with up to a 50 percent blend of SAF mixed with kerosene, it is our Company’s ambition to have its helicopters certified to fly with 100 percent SAF within the decade. Today’s flight is an important first step towards this goal,”  said Stefan Thome, executive vice president for engineering and chief technical officer, Airbus Helicopters.

The flight campaign, which follows earlier unblended SAF bench tests performed by Safran Helicopter Engines at its Bordes plant, will provide further understanding of the technical challenges associated with the use of 100 percent SAF. The H225 test helicopter flew with an unblended SAF derived from used cooking oil, provided by TotalEnergies, which offers a net 90 percent CO2 reduction compared to regular jet fuel.

Envision, SITA join forces on net-zero tech


Envision Digital International, a Singapore-headquartered global net zero partner and Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) technology leader, and SITA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly build end-to-end net zero carbon solutions for airports worldwide. The collaboration will harness Envision Digital’s strengths in digitalisation, data management, and artificial intelligence applied to energy and smart building solutions, and SITA’s strengths in air transport technology and operations to support airports in their journey towards net zero carbon emissions. The MOU forms part of SITA’s strategy to help the air transport industry reduce its carbon footprint through greater operational efficiencies.

Michael Ding, global executive director at Envision Digital, said: “ Airports have been progressive in their ambition to reach net zero, and this partnership combining our AIoT leadership with SITA’s technology capabilities, will create the end-to-end net zero carbon aviation solution needed by the industry to reach their goal.”

Both companies will work together to build a carbon reduction solution that connects and facilitates real-time data flows in an airport to monitor its real-time carbon footprint, gain data-driven insights, and manage emissions.

Embraer unveils Energia line for renewable technologies

(PHOTO: Embraer)

Embraer announced a family of concept aircraft that it is exploring to help the industry achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company has partnered with an international consortium of engineering universities, aeronautical research institutes, and small and medium-sized enterprises to better understand energy harvesting, storage, thermal management and their applications for sustainable aircraft propulsion. The Energia Family is comprised of four concept aircraft of varying sizes that incorporate different propulsion technologies – electric, hydrogen fuel cell, dual fuel gas turbine, and hybrid-electric. Each aircraft is being evaluated for its technical and subsequent commercial viability. Luis Carlos Affonso, Embraer’s senior vice president of engineering, technology and corporate strategy, explained the rationale for the Energia family. “We see our role as a developer of novel technologies to help the industry achieve its sustainability targets. There’s no easy or single solution in getting to net zero. New technologies and their supporting infrastructure will come online over time. We’re working right now to refine the first airplane concepts, the ones that can start reducing emissions sooner rather than later. Small aircraft are ideal on which to test and prove new propulsion technologies so that they can be scaled up to larger aircraft. That’s why our Energia family is such an important platform.”

Although the Energia airplanes are still on the drawing board, Embraer has already made advances in reducing emissions from its aircraft. It has tested drop-in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), mixes of sugarcane and camelina plant-derived fuel and fossil fuel, on its family of E-Jets. The company is targeting to have all Embraer aircraft SAF-compatible by 2030. Last August, Embraer flew its Electric Demonstrator, a single-engine EMB-203 Ipanema, 100% powered by electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell demonstrator is planned for 2025 and the company’s eVTOL, a fully electric, zero-emissions vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, is being developed to enter service in 2026.

Singapore to start pilot programme for SAF

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Singapore plans to introduce a year-long pilot program in 2022 to use sustainable aviation fuel at its airport amid pledges by its top companies to cut carbon emissions. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will partner with Singapore Airlines and state investor Temasek Holdings on the project, the agency said in a statement. A request for proposals was made this week to invite select producers and fuel suppliers to provide plans to deliver blended sustainable aviation fuel to Changi Airport, according to the statement. The pilot programme will provide insights into costs, potential pricing structures and will support future policy considerations, Han Kok Juan, the authority’s director-general, said in the statement.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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