Continued growth of European aviation poses environmental challenges that must be addressed, warns EU regulator
Mon 28 Jan 2019 – Europe’s aviation regulator EASA has warned the continued growth of European aviation could undermine efforts to mitigate climate change and the Paris objectives if effective action is not taken to reduce the sector’s emissions over the next 10 years. In its 2nd European Aviation Environmental Report (EAER), prepared in conjunction with Eurocontrol and the European Environment Agency (EEA), EASA says overall impacts from aviation have increased by 10% for CO2, 12% for NOx and 14% for noise since 2014. In its most likely traffic forecast, aircraft CO2 emissions are predicted to increase by 21% and NOx emissions by 16% from 2017 to 2040 as the number of flights in Europe grow by 42%. Existing mitigation measures are unlikely to counteract the increasing environmental impacts, says the report. As aircraft movements increase, aviation noise may also affect new populations in the future, it adds.
“We need concrete and effective action to reduce aviation emissions over the next 10 years in order to support the Paris Agreement objectives and mitigate climate change,” commented Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). “The aviation sector must play its part in this global effort. Addressing noise and air quality issues at a local level are also critical.”
As a result of a new EU regulation adopted last July, the agency is tasked to play a greater role on environmental issues and work with stakeholders – including EU institutions and states, industry and NGOs – in developing solutions. In addition to publishing the environmental performance of the aviation sector, the agency’s extended remit now includes maintaining state-of-the-art environmental standards; certifying aircraft and engines against environmental standards; environmental modelling; research on new emerging topics such as sustainable aviation fuels, electric and hybrid engines, drones and supersonic aircraft; and the promotion of improved environmental performance and international cooperation projects on environmental protection.
Said Ky: “Since EASA’s rules and our competencies with regard to environment have been further strengthened by the European Union, EASA now plays a leading role in actively developing and implementing measures to address these challenges in cooperation with our partners.”
The report provides an assessment of the historic and forecasted environmental performance of the European aviation sector, alongside information on various mitigation measures to reduce its environmental impact. It includes key performance indicators that show the evolution of noise, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution over several years.
It also provides an indication of future levels of noise and emissions according to different scenarios, and depending on the progress achieved through technology deployment. Technologies to improve the environmental performance of aviation currently being developed through EU and industry initiatives, such as SESAR and Clean Sky, are looked at and the report also seeks to increase awareness of the effects of aviation on health.
Other key findings show that the number of flights in the 32 EU and EFTA countries increased by 8% between 2014 and 2017. In 2016, domestic and international aviation were together accountable for 3.6% of the total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions and 13.4% of transport emissions.
Technological improvements, fleet renewal and increased operational efficiency have been able to partially counterbalance the impact of recent growth, says the report, but there has still been an increase in overall noise and emissions since 2014. However, as efficiencies continue, by 2040 average fuel burn per passenger kilometre flown is expected to reduce by 12% and noise energy per flight by 24%, but CO2 emissions to increase by at least 21%. The mean aircraft age of the European fleet has crept up from 9.6 in 2005 to 10.8 years in 2017.
The report says climate impacts from non-CO2 emissions, such as NOx and particles, should not be ignored as they represent shorter term warming effects, but adds the level of scientific understanding of the magnitude of the effects is medium to very low.
It says more States and organisations are now taking action to adapt and build resilience to the potential future climate impacts on the aviation sector, for example higher temperatures and rising sea levels.
“The findings of this report are compelling. Without even more action by our industry and policy makers, the sector’s environmental impact is simply going to keep on growing,” commented Eamonn Brennan, Director General of Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic management agency. “Despite aviation’s huge commitment over many years to reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise, traffic growth continues to make the environmental impacts of aviation even more challenging.”
He said traffic across Europe grew 3.8% last year but was outpaced by carbon emissions growth of 5.2%, with noise remaining a constant point of contention for communities around airports. The number of airports that handle more than 50,000 annual aircraft movements is estimated to increase from 82 in 2017 to 110 in 2040. Aviation noise may therefore affect new populations in the future, warns the report.
“Despite all this, the public increasingly wants to benefit from the connectivity that aviation uniquely delivers,” said Brennan. “We at Eurocontrol will continue working with our partners to find solutions to these challenges to deliver a sustainable aviation system over the long term.”
Adding his voice to the findings, Hans Bruyninckx, EEA’s Executive Director, said: “The report confirms that the outlook in aviation are not compatible with protecting the environment, climate and people’s health. Europe must lead the way towards a more sustainable aviation sector at home and abroad. Strong policies and robust implementation can mitigate future impacts of a growing sector as well as foster innovation and the fundamental shift needed in consumer behaviour.”
In a more optimistic response to the report, EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said: “As Europeans we must continue to pioneer the battle against climate change. This report shows that our joint actions are working: we have reduced fuel burn and noise per flight; investments have delivered more efficient technologies; airports are becoming carbon neutral; and, finally, we are starting to implement the first-ever global scheme to offset CO2 emissions.”