Finnair expects operational gains and fleet renewal to achieve a 41 percent emissions fall
Fri 9 Apr 2010 – Finnair has committed to increasing the pace of reducing its emissions per seat-kilometre over the next eight years, according to its recently published annual Corporate Responsibility Report. Between 1999 and 2009, the airline’s CO2 emissions per seat have declined by 22 percent but through operational practices and fleet renewal it intends to reduce emissions by 24 percent between 2009 and 2017. This represents an anticipated overall 41 percent fall in 2017 compared to 1999. In an article within the report, Seppo Laine, Professor Emeritus of Aviation Technology at the Helsinki University of Technology, controversially claims recent research shows the climate warming effects caused by aviation have been overstated.
Finnair President and CEO Mika Vehviläinen said new aircraft represented the greatest possible contribution to reducing environmental effects.
“Our emissions in relation to seats offered have reduced radically, and further reductions will take place in the future,” he writes in an editorial for the report. “By operational means we have already achieved clear savings both in the air and in ground operations. We will continue on the path of improvement – better operating practices must be found in future, too. This will guarantee our opportunities to grow sustainably and profitably, while continuing to bear our social responsibility.”
In addition to measures to reduce airspace congestion, Vehviläinen says emissions reductions should be achieved with the aid of global system of emissions trading.
“In 2010, air transport became part of the EU emissions trading system. Finnair is actively pursuing an international agreement on an air transport emissions trading model, because this would achieve a worldwide reduction in air transport emissions; regional systems, on the other hand, lead to carbon leakage and a distortion of competition.”
He says Finnair was actively participating in the development of aviation biofuels. “The problem, in such an energy-intensive industry, is to find a raw material which would meet demand and could be produced sustainably.”
Finnair’s aim, he states, was to make a biofuel test flight later this year and “to initiate commercial operations” using biofuels in 2011.
Also writing in the report, Kati Ihamäki, VP Sustainable Development, says Finnair remained committed to pursuing emissions reductions, despite the industry recession.
“Even in these difficult circumstances we must also be able to see far into the future,” she explains. “We have made preparations for emissions trading nationally and we have been actively involved in creating models for international emissions trading in the sector. Sector growth requires measures to promote sustainable development, even in hard times.
“In a report last year we announced that we would reduce our emissions both in relation to performance and in absolute terms. And this we did. But the true test will be in years of growth, not during a recession when the operations of nearly every airline have contracted.”
In another article, Damian Ryan of international NGO The Climate Group writes that despite continuing technological and infrastructure improvements, as well as a possible transformative contribution by sustainable second-generation biofuels, the growth in air travel globally is likely to outpace the best reduction efforts.
He states that a global emissions trading scheme for aviation should be a central pillar of any solution, and should be implemented within the next three to five years. Such a scheme would cap, and then progressively reduce, the amount of total CO2 the sector could emit itself. Critically, he says, the scheme would allow airlines to purchase extra emission permits and carbon credits from other industries.
“This approach would allow the aviation sector to grow sustainably, offsetting its climate impact by paying for emission reductions elsewhere,” he explains. “The reduction targets for aviation should be aligned with the climate science but also be fair and proportional.
“But emissions trading is only part of the solution. A comprehensive approach to emissions reduction is necessary. For example, where genuine, lower-emission alternatives exist to air travel – such as high-speed rail or video-conferencing – these should be used. Encouraging consumers to consider the environmental impact of their flight will be an important part of the overall mitigation package for aviation.
“Governments will also need to support the development of new cutting-edge technologies, so that future generations of aircraft produce far fewer, if any, emissions. Taken together, and properly coordinated, these government, industry and consumer actions provide a way for the aviation sector to play its fair and effective role in the global effort to address climate change.”
In his article, Prof Laine states earlier scientific research into the non-CO2 effects of aircraft emissions showed nitrogen oxides, water vapour, sulphur compounds and soot particles combined to produce 49% of the radiative forcing – the greenhouse effect – caused by carbon dioxide. However, just published research, taking into account the effect of the components on each other (both warming and cooling), gives different values, he maintains.
According to this research, these emission components would have a negative radiative forcing (cooling effect) and it would be 92% of the effect of carbon dioxide emissions. This is due particularly to the negative radiative forcing of sulphur compounds and a lower radiative forcing than previously expected for ozone (warming effect), which is caused by nitrogen oxides (NOx). However, NOx also destroys the dangerous greenhouse gas methane, thus having a cooling effect.
Overall, claims Prof Laine, the radiative forcing of air transport would, according to the latest research, be 0.48 times the radiative forcing caused by carbon dioxide.
“Sometimes we use the concept equivalent carbon dioxide emissions, which means that by multiplying carbon dioxide emissions by the figure 0.48 we obtain the joint effect of all air transport emissions measured as carbon dioxide emissions,” he says. “When comparing different forms of transport, it is important to take into account that road transport emissions include not only carbon dioxide, but also other components that raise the level of radiative forcing.
“The above review is only indicative, however, because the warming effect of different emission components happens at different times and over different durations. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for a long time, even a century, and that’s why its warming effect will be fully felt only decades into the future.
“It’s notable that it makes no difference whether carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere at high altitude or at the ground surface. Condensation trails, moreover, disappear quickly, within minutes or hours, and their warming effect on the atmosphere also disperses rapidly.
“In summary, it can be stated that air transport carbon dioxide emissions represent around two percent of all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions and that the warming effect of all air transport emissions represents perhaps one or two percent of the total warming effect of human-generated emissions.”