First EU-wide report on aviation’s environmental impacts shows growing challenges
A new report by European environment and aviation agencies – the European Aviation Environmental Report – has been published, by the European Environment Agency, and EASA. The aim of the initiative is to “monitor, promote and strengthen the EU’s efforts for a more sustainable European aviation sector.” The report looks at a range of issues for European aviation, including its noise impact, its carbon emissions, and local air quality. It is aware that “the historic rate of improvement in various areas (e.g. technology and design) has not kept pace with past growth in the demand for air travel leading to increased overall pressures (e.g. emissions, noise) on the environment, and this trend is forecast to continue.” The report is aware that future growth of the sector, out to 2035, will require environmental improvements. On noise, the report says around 5 million people in Europe were exposed to aircraft noise levels above 55 dBA Lden in 2012. While average jet aircraft noise decreased by around 4 dB per decade since 1960, the improvement has recently slowed to 2 dB per decade. On carbon emissions, the report says CO2 emissions from aviation have increased by around 77% between 1990 and 2005 and a further 5% from 2005 to 2014. They are likely to rise by a further 45% up to 2035. They note that biofuel development has been slow, and that a market based mechanism for global aviation carbon emissions is needed.
First EU-wide report on aviation’s environmental impacts shows growing challenges
A new report by European environment and aviation agencies – the European Aviation Environmental Report – has found that the growth in European air traffic has outstripped technological and operational improvements over the past 25 years, leading to increased environmental pressures which are forecast to intensify out to 2035.
The report is a collaboration between the European Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Environment Agency (EEA) and EUROCONTROL (see the end of this article for an explanation about each of their roles in EU aviation policy).
Between 1990 and 2005, the extent of environmental impacts – noise, CO2 emissions and air pollution – and the number of flights grew at similar rates. However, emissions and noise exposure today remain around the same as in 2005 due primarily to the economic downturn in 2008 that has seen little change in the number of flights.
A major change that has occurred since 2005 is as a result of changing airline practises: the average number of passengers per flight increased from 87 in 2005 to 113 in 2014. This has meant that passenger numbers grew by around 25% between 2005 and 2014, while the actual number of flights declined by 0.5%. The lack of a relationship between passenger growth and the number of flights is one of the arguments used in AEF’s recent report: ‘The Runway Myth’.
Around 2.5 million people were exposed to aircraft noise levels above 55 dBA Lden (which is the level EU members states are required to map and report noise under the Environmental Noise Directive) in 2014 but this figure was only for the 45 major European airports which had submitted noise exposure data to the European Commission. The actual figure, according to the report, was around 5 million people in 2012.
While average jet aircraft noise decreased by around 4 dB per decade since 1960, the improvement has recently slowed to 2 dB per decade. As a result, the population exposed to noise above 55 dBA Lden (measured over 24 hours) decreased by only 2% between 2005 and 2014. The report highlights that new aircraft are quieter than previous generations with fleet renewal being a major factor contributing to reduced noise from a single flight. However, the population exposed to aircraft noise levels above 55 dBA Lden is forecast to increase by 15% up to 2035.
Changing practices associated with low cost carriers increasing the number of flights each aircraft makes a day (with the average number of flights per day per aircraft increasing from 3.1 in 2005 to 3.4 in 2014) have led to increases in morning and evening levels of aircraft noise as airlines attempt to fit in additional flights. AEF’s recent report on the health impacts of aircraft noise illustrates the impact of morning and evening flights on the health of children, shift workers and vulnerable populations.
CO2 emissions from aviation have increased by around 77% between 1990 and 2005 and a further 5% from 2005 to 2014, according to the report, and are forecast to grow by a further 45% up to 2035. This was despite the fact that average fuel burn per passenger kilometre flown for passenger aircraft, excluding business aviation, went down by 19% between 2005 and 2014.
The report emphasises several factors that are leading to increasing CO2 emissions from the aviation sector. Firstly, the fleet across Europe is slowly ageing, with the average age of aircraft increasing from 9.6 years in 2005 to 10.3 years in 2014. Low cost airlines tend to have newer fleets but all-cargo aircraft have an average age of 19 years.
A second factor is that the uptake of alternative fuels in the aviation sector has been “very slow”, states the report, despite the aviation industry promoting the importance of biofuels for addressing aviation emissions. Assistance for the industry has also come from the European Commission through the European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath which has an aim to produce two million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for civil aviation annually by 2020. The report notes that this target is “unlikely” to be met.
The report argues there is a need for market based measures, including the EU emissions trading scheme, to meet aviation’s emissions reduction targets as technological and operational improvements alone are not considered sufficient, mirroring previous analyses by ICAO.
A key finding in the report is that NOx emissions from aviation doubled between 1990 and 2014, and are forecast to grow by a further 43% between 2014 and 2035, posing a threat to public health. According to the report, the aviation sector is now responsible for 14% of all EU transport NOx emissions, and 7% of the total EU NOx emissions, as other economic sectors have achieved significant reductions. The report says that improvements driven by new emissions standards (usually agreed by the UN body ICAO’s Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection) have come too slowly, indicating the importance of ambitious international environmental standards.
The report’s launch coincides with the environment committee (CAEP) of the UN aviation body, ICAO, meeting in Montreal to decide on a CO2 standard for new aircraft, with Europe being pressured to show more ambition. AEF are present at the CAEP meeting to call for a CO2 standard that will drive reductions in emissions.
The new report also comes only a couple of months after the European Commission’s Aviation Strategy for Europe was published which gave little attention to the environmental impact of flying.
- The European Commission – responsible for Directives and long-term targets that are intended to improve the environment in Europe by tackling air pollution, noise and CO2 emissions.
- The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – responsible for introducing environmental and safety certification for aviation products, including adoption of international standards for noise and pollutants. EASA has been given the responsibility to update the European Aviation Environmental Report every three years to assess progress.
- The European Environment Agency (EEA) – provides independent information on the environment in Europe and has published reports on issues including exposure to noise across Europe.
- EUROCONTROL – responsible for air navigation across Europe
The report, by the European Environmental Agency, and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) – 84 pages
The Welcome Message, from Violeta Bluc (European Commissioner for Transport) says:
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this first edition of the European Aviation Environmental Report. It is a valuable initiative to monitor, promote and strengthen the EU’s efforts for a more sustainable European aviation sector. This report is the result of a close collaboration between the European Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Environment Agency and EUROCONTROL.The European Commission’s main ambition is to strengthen the EU air transport value network in order to enhance its competitiveness and make the sector more sustainable, which is why the Commission adopted ‘An Aviation Strategy for Europe’ in December 2015.
Aviation needs concerted, co-ordinated and consistent policy support, which can be delivered by the EU, with a shift in mindset. Europe must take a collective stance to tackle common challenges. In this respect, the task of finding many of the solutions lies as much with the industry as it does with the regulators who have the responsibility to provide an appropriate regulatory framework.
Europe is a leading player in international aviation and a global model for sustainable aviation, with a high level of service and ambitious EU standards. However the aviation sector’s contribution to climate change, air pollution and noise levels is under increasing scrutiny. In 2011, the Commission adopted a White Paper setting out ambitious decarbonisation objectives for the transport sector. This was taken one step further under the leadership of President Jean-Claude Juncker, by making a forward looking climate policy and a strong Energy Union one of the Commission’s top priorities.
I am confident that European aviation is taking on the challenge to contribute as much as possible to these efforts and I am convinced that innovation, both in technologies and business models will offer solutions to make aviation more sustainable. Good coordination and collaboration between the different aviation stakeholders, including policy makers and regulators, manufacturers, airlines and airport operators, air navigation service providers, non-governmental organisations and the public, are crucial.
The foundation of such an approach requires published, reliable and objective information, accessible to all. This first report marks an important step towards the regular monitoring of the overall environmental performance of the European aviation system. It will also support better coordination and collaboration within Europe on future priorities by feeding discussions on the effectiveness of different policies and measures already in place. Moreover, the Commission has proposed in its new European Aviation Safety Agency Regulation that the European Aviation Safety Agency publishes updates of this report.
It is recognised that Europe’s aviation sector brings significant economic and social benefits. However its activities also contribute to climate change, noise and local air quality impacts, and consequently affect the health and quality of life of European citizens. The historic rate of improvement in various areas (e.g. technology and design) has not kept pace with past growth in the demand for air travel leading to increased overall pressures (e.g. emissions, noise) on the environment, and this trend is forecast to continue. Consequently the environmental challenge for the sector will increase, and future growth in the European aviation sector will be inextricably linked to its environmental sustainability.
A comprehensive and effective package of measures is required to continue to address this challenge in the coming years. The foundation of such an approach requires published, reliable and objective information, accessible to all, to inform discussions on how this challenge will be specifically addressed. This is the core objective of the European Aviation Environmental Report. Greater coordination to support subsequent editions will help to periodically monitor and report on the environmental performance of the European aviation sector.
Overview of Aviation Sector
• Number of flights has increased by 80% between 1990 and 2014, and is forecast to grow by a further 45% between 2014 and 2035 .
• Environmental impacts of European aviation have increased over the past 25 years following the growth in air traffic.
• Mean aircraft age was about 10 years in 2014, but fleet is slowly ageing.
• Due to technological improvements, fleet renewal, increased Air Traffic Management efficiency and the 2008 economic downturn, emissions and noise exposure in 2014 were around 2005 levels.
• About 2.5 million people were exposed to noise at 45 major European airports in 2014 , and this is forecast to increase by 15% between 2014 and 2035.
• CO2 emissions have increased by about 80% between 1990 and 2014, and are forecast to grow by a further 45% between 2014 and 2035.
• NOX emissions have doubled between 1990 and 2014, and are forecast to grow by a further 43% between 2014 and 2035.
Technology and Design
• Jet aircraft noise levels have generally reduced by about 4 decibels per decade. The progress has recently slowed to about 2 decibels per decade, and this rate of improvement is expected to continue in the future.
• The future trend in noise improvements may be adversely influenced by a new engine design known as a Counter-Rotating Open Rotor that is due to enter service around 2030. • More stringent aircraft noise limits and engine NOX emissions limits have been introduced over time to incentivise continuous improvement.
• Average NOX margin to CAEP/6 limit for in-production engine types has increased by about 15% over the last 5 years.
• Additional standards for aircraft CO2 emissions and aircraft engine particulate matter emissions are expected to enter into force in the near future.
Sustainable Alternative Fuels
• Uptake of sustainable alternative fuels in the aviation sector is very slow, but assumed to play a large role in reducing aviation greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.
• The European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath provides a roadmap to achieve an annual production rate of 2 million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for civil aviation by 2020.
• European commercial flights have trialled sustainable alternative fuels. However regular production of sustainable aviation alternative fuels is projected to be very limited in the next few years, and thus it is unlikely that the roadmap 2020 target will be achieved.
Air Traffic Management and Operations
• European network handles 27,000 flights and 2.27 million passengers per day.
• Europe is investing heavily in modernising the air traffic management system through the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) programme which is the technological pillar of the EU Single European Sky (SES) legislative framework.
• En route and arrival operational efficiencies show a moderate but steady reduction in additional distance flown, as does taxi-out times, thereby combining to reduce related excess CO2 emissions.
• SESAR deliverables will form the core of the European deployment of new operational capabilities which will contribute to achieving the SES Performance Scheme targets and high level goals as well as enhance global harmonisation and interoperability.
• 92 European airports are currently participating in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, and 20 of these airports are carbon neutral.
• 80% of passengers in Europe are handled via an airport with a certified environmental or quality management system.
• Involvement of all local stakeholders in the implementation of the balanced approach to aircraft noise management is recognised as a crucial factor in reducing the annoyance for people living near airports.
• By 2035, in the absence of continuing efforts, it is anticipated that some 20 major European airports will face significant congestion and related environmental impacts due to air traffic growth.
• Market-based measures are needed to meet aviation’s emissions reduction targets as technological and operational improvements alone are not considered sufficient.
• The European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) currently covers all intra-European flights. This will contribute around 65 million tonnes of CO2 emission reductions between 2013 and 2016, achieved within the aviation sector and in other sectors.
• More than 100 airports in Europe have deployed noise and emissions charging schemes since the 1990s.
Adapting Aviation to a Changing Climate
• Climate change is a risk for the European aviation sector as impacts are likely to include more frequent and more disruptive weather patterns as well as sea-level rise.
• Aviation sector needs to prepare for and develop resilience to these potential future impacts. Actions have been initiated at European, national and organisational levels.
• Pre-emptive action is likely to be cost-effective in comparison to addressing impacts as they occur in the future.
………….. and it continues ….. (84 pages)