Growth in UK aviation has been delivered without any increase in carbon emissions, finds airline industry report

Growth in UK aviation has been delivered without any increase in carbon emissions, finds airline industry report | Airlines UK,British Air Transport Association

(photo: Heathrow Airport)

Fri 20 Jan 2017 – Although carrying 20 million more passengers than 10 years ago, this growth has been achieved without an increase in carbon emissions, claims a new report from Airlines UK, the trade body representing UK-registered airlines. It cites government data showing that in 2015, jet fuel deliveries to UK airports – for both UK and non-UK airline operations – were 10% lower than in 2006. By investing in more than 470 new aircraft since 2005, at a cost of £37 billion ($45bn), UK airlines had helped the industry to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 million tonnes, it says. The report seeks to set out how future UK demand for air travel can be met while ensuring the sector limits its environmental impact and hits emission reduction targets. It also calls on government to support these efforts with favourable policy decisions.


“Overall, we are exceeding the industry target for improving our performance on carbon reduction, with an increase in fuel efficiency of 12% over the past decade,” said Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, formerly the British Air Transport Association. He pointed out that his members had a further 397 aircraft, which offered at least a 13% improvement in fuel efficiency over existing aircraft, currently on order and due to enter into service in the coming years.


The most recent government data shows that in 2014, flights from all airlines operating in the UK were responsible for 35 million tonnes of CO2, representing 6.4% of total UK CO2 emissions, with 6% of that total coming from international flights and domestic flights accounting for the remainder (0.4%). The data shows greenhouse gas emissions from UK-based international aviation fuel use were estimated to be 32.9 MtCO2e, compared to a peak of 35.7 MtCO2e in 2006, which in turn had more than doubled from 15.6 MtCO2e in 1990. For the first time, therefore, growth in UK passenger numbers from 2006 to 2014 was delivered without any increase in emissions (see graph below).


Against the aviation industry’s global fuel efficiency improvement target of 1.5% per year from 2010 to 2020, the report estimates overall UK progress of an average 1.9% improvement since 2010.


The report sets out the carbon impact of UK aviation and details four areas to help achieve the global industry target of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050: the continued introduction of new aircraft; greater fuel efficiency; the use of sustainable fuels; and support for international carbon offsetting. It aims to complement the work of industry group Sustainable Aviation, which recently published its updated Carbon Road-Map.


Airlines UK says its members, along with industry partners, are working to create greater fuel efficiency through initiatives such as more direct routings for aircraft, uninterrupted climb and descent procedures, and reduced engine taxiing. Members have also been involved in larger airspace trials beyond the UK border, such as a collaborative project, called Topflight, to improve the efficiency of transatlantic flights, and the XMAN trial to reduce the amount of time aircraft spend in airborne holding patterns on arrival to Heathrow Airport.


The trade body requests government to prioritise and support industry efforts to deliver airspace modernisation, and include airspace as a critical part of long-term strategic decision-making under the remit of the government’s National Infrastructure Commission.


Filling each plane – using the right-sized aircraft and utilising complex booking systems to ensure high load factors – also contributes to more efficient fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, adds the report. It says average passenger load factors on member-airline flights have increased from 79% in 2005 to 83% in 2015.


As a result of 10 years of investment in improving fuel efficiency, 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions have been saved since 2005 by UK airlines, it estimates.


Sustainable aviation fuels developed from waste produced from domestic, commercial and industrial processes offer further opportunities for reductions in CO2 emissions of up to 24% by 2050, says the report, which endorses the conclusions of the Sustainable Fuels UK Road-Map published by Sustainable Aviation in 2015. Airlines UK said it welcomed the recent consultation by the government on including sustainable aviation fuels in its updated renewable transport fuel policy (see article).


“However, we are concerned that the policy must support all the wide-ranging and innovative schemes to produce sustainable aviation fuels, including those being championed by our members,” it added. “Airlines UK calls on the government to provide a long-term policy for encouraging UK sustainable aviation fuel production that will help stimulate research, development and investment.” Without a long-term policy, investment in this sector would be limited and innovations would lag behind other nations, it warned.


In order to meet lower emission goals and once all industry initiatives have been exhausted, the report acknowledges some form of carbon offsetting scheme is required. The inclusion of aviation since 2012 into the current form of the EU Emissions Trading System had resulted in a net reduction so far of 6 million tonnes of CO2 from UK airlines, it estimates.


Airlines UK said it welcomed the role played by the UK government in the ICAO negotiations to reach the global agreement on the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).


“The government must now focus on the implementation details, particularly avoiding duplication with the coverage of this scheme and other regional schemes,” recommends the report. “The government should also start negotiations with other countries to agree how CORSIA will deliver a halving of global net CO2 reductions by 2050, whilst delivering economic growth.”


Finally, the report calls on the government to continue its support for the UK aerospace industry in its efforts to deliver affordable, new aircraft technology and grow the number of high-value jobs in the UK.


“This report sets out in detail the carbon impact of UK aviation and what the industry is doing to deliver sustainable growth. It is clear that airlines are making enormous efforts to reduce their carbon emissions,” commented Alderslade. “Further work is needed – some of it requiring government support – but the report demonstrates that the direction of travel is positive.”




Airlines UK report – ‘Responding to the Carbon Challenge’



UK aviation CO2e emissions 1990-2014 compared to UK air passenger growth (source: UK government):







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