UK aviation industry says 2050 CO2 targets can be met while still accommodating significant demand growth
Fri 9 Dec 2016 – As government assesses the impact of airport expansion on long-term national carbon targets, the UK industry group Sustainable Aviation (SA) has released a comprehensive update of its CO2 Road-Map, first published in 2012. The general thrust of UK aviation policy is for CO2 emissions from the sector to be no more in 2050 than they were in 2005. To date, UK aviation demand has grown 11% since 2005 while emissions are below 2005 levels, but is expected to accelerate and emissions, according to SA, could rise by 155% under a ‘no-improvements’ scenario. However, even with an increase in runway capacity, SA’s updated roadmap shows that with a combination of changes to operations, improvements in aircraft technology and the introduction of alternative fuels, gross CO2 emissions could peak around 2035 before falling back to near 2005 levels by 2050. To achieve an industry target of halving 2005 emissions by 2050 though would require market-based measures, says SA.
At a Sustainable Aviation reception in the House of Commons this week, Rolls-Royce Environment Strategy Manager Peter Swann said: “This Road-Map sets out our projections of CO2 emissions from UK aviation to 2050 based on the latest evidence. It combines an assessment of growth in aviation activity derived from recently-published Airports Commission’s forecasts with our own analysis and judgement around the available mitigation opportunities, and their likely impact on carbon efficiency.”
The 2012 roadmap proposed a future pathway to achieving the 2050 objective and the updated version remains broadly unchanged although it provides a re-examination of the impact of future fleets, improvements in operational and air traffic management (ATM) practices, and developments in sustainable aviation fuels. It finds that a greater contribution to fuel burn reduction from so-called ‘imminent aircraft’ than was first forecast in the 2012 roadmap will be a major factor in helping offset the increased traffic growth resulting from additional runway capacity in South-East England.
To achieve ongoing delivery of these initiatives will require not only continued focus from the industry itself, but also appropriate levels of government support on both R&D and policy, said Swann. Areas where it sees such support necessary include airspace modernisation, access by the UK aerospace industry to ongoing high-value collaborative R&D funding, a strategy on UK sustainable aviation fuels production and implementing global, rather than regional, market-based mechanisms up to 2050.
SA’s 155% ‘no-improvements’ growth rate of carbon emissions – which assumes technology levels, operational practices and sustainable aviation fuel penetration remains unchanged from 2010 – implies an average annual growth rate of 2.37% between 2010 and 2050. This is slightly higher than the 2.32% forecast in 2012 due to a balancing of more recent demand-growth forecasts, a lowering of ambition on freighter activity growth and the extra demand from the increase in runway capacity.
Improvements in ATM and operational practices are likely to improve the carbon intensity of UK aviation by around 8.7% by 2050 relative to 2010, says the roadmap report, similar to that predicted in 2012. Potential additional savings that have not been factored in could result from the introduction of electric taxiing, the prospects of which are not yet clear, says SA.
An examination of improvements in aircraft and engine efficiency provides most of the roadmap work, looking at the impact of the introduction of ‘imminent’ and ‘future’ generation aircraft. Imminent aircraft that have been re-evaluated or included for the first time in the 2016 roadmap are the Airbus A320neo family, Airbus A321LR, Airbus A330neo, Boeing 737 MAX, Boeing 777X and Boeing 787-10.
SA estimates the introduction of imminent generation aircraft will improve the fleet-average fuel efficiency of UK aviation by some 22% by 2050 relative to the 2010 baseline fleet, with the bulk of this improvement delivered by around 2040.
The new roadmap now considers 10 aircraft categories rather than three, having increased the granularity of its fleet replacement model for the baseline to imminent transition, which has allowed for a more correct capture of the timing of various improvements to fleet fuel efficiency.
SA says in the narrow-body segment, the extent to which the A320neo and 737 MAX will improve upon the fuel efficiency of their respective predecessors is now significantly greater than was understood in 2012. However, the marketplace success of these two types will likely result in their production runs being longer than it anticipated in 2012, so their replacements could be some 10 years later than previously assumed. SA’s fleet replacement model for the imminent to future transition now considers four aircraft categories rather than three, which allows for a distinction between different parts of the wide-body category, whose replacement timescales and characteristics may be different.
As a result, fleet efficiency improvements related to the introduction of imminent aircraft types will be larger than anticipated in 2012, while the subsequent transition from imminent to future aircraft will have a lower impact by 2050 due to its later starting point. However, the net result is that at 2050 the overall improvement in fuel efficiency relative to the 2010 baseline is very similar to its 2012 assessment, says SA. Overall, this should yield a potential improvement in fleet-average fuel efficiency between 2010 and 2050 of some 39%.
The new roadmap retains its 2012 assertion that by 2050 sustainable aviation fuels will offer between 15% and 24% – with a central case of 18% – reduction in CO2 emissions from aviation. This assumption is based on a 25-40% penetration of such fuels into the global aviation market, coupled with a 60% life-cycle CO2 saving per litre of fossil-based aviation fuel displaced. SA says sustainable fuels will be essential in meeting the climate challenges the sector faces in the period to 2050 and the UK should capitalise on its global aerospace leadership and take the opportunities presented by the emerging sustainable fuel market.
Industry was encouraged, it says in the roadmap, by the recent government announcement on a consultation to include aviation in the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation in the period to 2030 (see article) and SA urges the government to introduce binding legislation to provide a long-term policy as soon as possible.
The roadmap notes the progress made since 2012 on the development and now adoption of a global market-based measure. The ICAO CORSIA scheme is the next necessary step to enable aviation to contribute to overall carbon reductions beyond those achievable within the industry itself, says SA. There is now widespread acceptance that to fully address CO2 emissions from aviation, and to meet challenging reduction targets, carbon pricing achieved through a carbon trading policy framework is essential, it adds.
Following the ICAO agreement, SA suggests there is now an opportunity for a fresh look at environmental regulation in Europe and to review the EU Emissions Trading System so as to avoid double regulation with separate, overlapping measures and a duplication of administrative obligations. Government should also start the process for a global mechanism for the period after CORSIA ends in 2035, it advises, as this will be essential in supporting the global aviation industry’s commitment to reduce net aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
SA says future updates of its roadmap will assess the impact of Brexit on levels of demand for UK aviation as the consequences unfold, but points to IATA estimates that the number of UK air passengers could be 3-5% lower by 2020 and perhaps an even lower 6% by 2035 in the event of a ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ Brexit case.
Commenting on the roadmap update, Sustainable Aviation Chair Ian Jopson said: “This work takes into consideration the latest advances in aircraft design, fuel technology and operational work, and shows that the UK industry can meet the public’s growing demand to fly while meeting our environmental obligations.”
The government’s advisors on the nation’s legally-binding carbon budgets, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said in a major report published in early 2009 that technology, operational and sustainable fuel innovations would allow UK air travel demand to grow by 60% from 2005 to 2050 while emissions in 2050 would be consistent with 2005 levels. To date, says the CCC, aviation demand has grown 11% since 2005, while the latest data shows emissions are below 2005 levels.
However, in a recent letter to UK energy minister Greg Clark, CCC Chairman Lord Deben expressed concerns over business case assumptions on the growth of aviation emissions made by the government when approving a third runway at Heathrow. The business case uses a central case scenario of emissions in 2050 that are about 15% higher than those the CCC had planned for, he said, and that assumption had not accounted for the use of international credits. If aviation emissions were now anticipated to be higher than 2005 levels, then all other sectors, which were already required to reduce their emissions by 85% during the period, would have to go even further under national carbon targets, he argued. The CCC had limited confidence this was possible, he said.
Responding to the letter, Jopson said: “We understand the Committee’s concerns but our research, which is based on the most recent demand forecasts, demonstrates that UK aviation is able to accommodate significant growth to 2050 and still be broadly in line with the Committee’s recommendation to Government.”
The latest available forecasts from the Department for Transport (DfT), published in 2011, show that under a central case, UK aviation CO2 emissions will rise from 33.3Mt in 2010 to 43.0Mt in 2030, within the range 39.7-48.2Mt. After 2030, said the DfT report, the growth of aviation CO2 emissions is forecasted to slow due to the effects of market maturity and airport capacity restraints, and by 2040 begin to stabilise, before starting to fall by 2050. It predicts that in 2050, emissions will reach 47.0Mt, within the range 34.7Mt to 52.1Mt. Under this scenario, emissions can only return to 2005 levels of 37.5Mt under the low case forecast or through carbon offsetting.
The DfT is expected to release during 2017 a strategy to deal with aviation carbon emissions. In a letter to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, UK transport secretary Chris Grayling said the government is considering available policy measures to address the climate impacts of aviation.
“We plan to develop an aviation strategy to replace the aviation policy framework, setting out a framework for the future of the UK aviation sector, including environmental impacts,” he said. “We have begun scoping this work and engaging with industry, including organisations such as Sustainable Aviation, on what it should look like.
“Among available policy measures, sustainable aviation fuels are of strategic importance to reducing carbon emissions in the aviation sector. We are working on ways to encourage the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, including making them eligible for support under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation.”