Breakthrough on efforts to reduce emissions from aircraft

Efforts to tackle emissions from aviation have taken a hesitant step forward, with the news that ICAO has endorsed an expert group’s recommendation on the way to measure fuel burn in flight. The recommendation is for a ‘metric’ system and test cycle to be the basis for setting fuel efficiency standards for new aircraft. However, many concerns remain. In 2009, ICAO began work on a standard for new aircraft, and has now produced a methodology for measuring in-flight fuel burn and thus CO2 emissions. This will form the basis for a minimum standard of fuel efficiency that all new aircraft will have to meet on CO2 emissions. The ICAO proposal for the CO2 metric are not yet public.  The environmental groups working with ICAO are working to ensure the standard set is stringent enough.




19.7.2012 (Transport & Environment)

Icao proposes ‘metric’ but NGOs still worried whether work will have a real impact

Efforts to tackle emissions from aviation have taken a hesitant step forward, with the news that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) has endorsed an expert group’s recommendation on the way to measure fuel burn in flight. The recommendation is for a ‘metric’ system and test cycle to be the basis for setting fuel efficiency standards for new aircraft, but many concerns remain.

In 2009, Icao began work on a standard for new aircraft, and after three years’ work its group of experts has now produced a ‘metric’ or methodology for measuring in-flight fuel burn and thus carbon dioxide emissions. This will form the basis for a minimum standard of fuel efficiency that all new aircraft will have to meet. The standard will address only CO2 emissions.The environmental groups working with Icao, of which T&E is one, reluctantly endorsed the ‘metric’ as formulated, and are now directing their efforts towards ensuring the final outcome is a minimum standard set at a stringent enough level that leads to gains beyond business-as-usual. They say Icao has a record of setting standards that follow technological development rather than force it as is often the case in other sectors.

The Icao proposal for the CO2 metric are not yet public, and all parties to the process are expected to keep it confidential, hence it is impossible to fully assess it here.

But there has been criticism of the proposed ‘metric’ from outside the Icao process. The aeronautical analyst Dimitri Simos has written an open letter warning that the form of Icao’s metric is ‘fundamentally flawed, unfit for purpose, and carries great risks for both the environment and the industry if not challenged prior to formal adoption’. Simos adds: ‘Gross technical blunders are about to be incorporated into key global policies.’ He criticises in particular the suggestion that fuel consumption will only be measured in the cruise phase, not during landing or take-off, and the fact that the proposals do not reward lighter aircraft.

T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘This has been a tortuous process and the outcome is far from perfect, but it is definitely a much better outcome than would have happened without us, and the challenges in calculating and setting stringency will be crucial. The work goes to the heart of the way manufacturers design aircraft and of how airlines influence airplane design to maximise commercial advantage, so it’s crucial that the environmental voice in the negotiations is strong. At almost every turn there is a risk that the short-term commercial interests of the airlines and plane makers will win out over the importance of reducing greenhouse gases.

‘If anything meaningful is to come out of this process, the minimum fuel-efficiency standard must be set at a sufficiently high level of stringency to ensure that the aircraft of the future are more fuel efficient than if there had been no standard. The challenge here is for Icao to show it is relevant and to agree a standard that pushes industry beyond business as usual. Icao has now agreed that for CO2 the standard must go beyond ensuring best available technology – but what that actually means in practice for designing new aircraft is yet to be determined.’

Click here to read Simos’s letter.

  • Switzerland is to get all airlines using Swiss airports to record tonne-kilometre data from next January. The move is in preparation for linking the Swiss emissions trading scheme with the EU ETS, even though negotiations between Bern and Brussels still haven’t reached final agreement.




See earlier:


Aircraft energy efficiency has not improved in a decade

16.12.2009  (Transport & Environment)

new study on aviation says the pace of improvements in aircraft energy efficiency is very slow, and no progress has been made in the last decade. It calls for a carbon dioxide emissions standard for aircraft already in production.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has examined emissions from more than 25,000 planes produced between 1960 and 2008. It shows improvements in fuel efficiency for the first three decades, but virtually no improvements in the last 20 years when there have been few new aircraft designs.

The International Civil Aviation Association recently proposed a CO2 standard for new aircraft designs, but rejected suggestions that designs currently in production should be subjected to a maximum level of emissions.

But Daniel Rutherford, a co-author of the ICCT’s report, says this will mean improvements will happen far too slowly. ‘Conventional wisdom holds that fuel prices drive constant improvements in new aircraft efficiency,’ he said, ‘but our analysis suggests efficiency improvements only tend to come with the introduction of new designs, which are much less common today.’

As a result, the ICCT fears that without a CO2 standard covering aircraft from both new and existing lines, airframe manufacturers could have a financial incentive to delay the introduction of more efficient engines in favour of older, unregulated models.

In a separate development, the head of the low-fares airline EasyJet has accused airframe makers of delaying delivery of cleaner, more fuel-efficient planes. ‘They are in no hurry to bring them out,’ Andy Harrison told a news conference, ‘because the cash flow they have from the Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 narrow-bodied planes is what they are interested in, and they want to keep that going.’

Responding to the accusation, a spokesperson for Airbus told Air & Business Travel News that technology to make planes quieter was available, as was technology to combat emissions, but that combined technology tackling both noise and emissions concerns was still in development and ‘would not be available for around another 10 years.’


Report Shows Fifty-Year Failure of Aviation Industry to Improve Fuel Efficiency

7.12.2005 (Transport & Environment)

Today’s commercial passenger planes are no more fuel-efficient than their equivalents of fifty years ago and aviation industry claims of a 70% improvement in fuel-efficiency are false. These are the main conclusions of a report by the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) published today by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) and released on this year’s environment-themed International Civil Aviation Day.

The new report was commissioned to investigate the claims of key industry groups such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) who say, “Aircraft entering today’s fleets are 70% more fuel efficient than they were 40 years ago.” (1)

The NLR, a world-leading aerospace research institute, found that the original source of the 70% figure, the 1999 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Aviation and the Global Atmosphere (2), only examined improvements made during the jet era and ignored propeller-based planes of the 1950s. The report shows that the focus on speed that led to the introduction of jet engines in the 1960s caused a massive initial reduction in fuel-efficiency that is only now being recovered. For example, the Lockheed Super Constellation of the mid 1950s was at least twice as fuel efficient as the first jets, and as efficient as today’s aircraft.

The study also shows that even the efficiency gains made over the jet era have been exaggerated. The first reference point of the IPCC study was the most gas-guzzling passenger jet plane ever produced, the De Havilland Comet 4 which consumed much more fuel than other early jets. The second reference point, however, was the most fuel-efficient passenger aircraft produced to date.

Significantly, the report also casts doubt on industry forecasts of future fuel efficiency improvements saying “many studies on predicted gains in the future tend to be rather optimistic.”

Jos Dings, Director of T&E said, “The industry has deliberately misled the public to cover up its failure to improve efficiency. There is no reason to believe they will prioritise efficiency in the future unless governments step in with serious incentives to cut emissions.”

T&E published the report’s findings on this year’s environment-themed International Civil Aviation Day to highlight the failure of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the organisers of the event, to take action on reducing emissions – a responsibility they were given when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. (3) The last general assembly of ICAO in October 2004 effectively prohibited states from introducing emissions-related charges in a resolution that “urges contracting states to refrain from unilateral implementation of greenhouse gas emissions charges [before] the next regular session of the assembly in 2007”.

T&E cautiously welcomed the recent EU proposal to include emissions from aviation into the European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) after 2009 but warns that trading alone will not provide enough of an incentive to cut emissions to the required degree. (4) In addition to emissions trading, T&E is calling for a package of additional measures including fuel taxes and en-route emissions charges.

“With no VAT paid on international tickets, no taxes on fuel and billions of Euros in aid given to Airbus and Boeing, the aviation sector still operates in a parallel universe where direct and indirect subsidies are handed out with abandon. In the absence of international action, the EU must follow-up on its proposal to introduce emissions trading as soon as possible and also put forward a package of additional measures to bring about meaningful cuts in emissions” said Dings.

Download the report.

(1) See IATA Environmental Review 2004 – For the full text of the 1999 IPCC report see: The international aviation sector (along with international shipping) was excluded from the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Under the Kyoto agreement, responsibility for cutting emissions was handed to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a United Nations body. So far there has been no action whatsoever in spite of the fact that CO2 emissions from the sector are growing at 4% per year – faster than every other transport mode.

(4) The European Commission proposed in September that the aviation sector should be brought into the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS). This is unlikely to happen before 2009 and would require the approval of national governments and the European Parliament before such measures could be introduced.

The real impact of emissions trading depends on how the system is designed. T&E is calling for measures that would result in maximum emissions reductions:
– All flights departing from and arriving at EU airports should be covered. Not just intra-EU flights.
– The system should account for the full climate impact of aviation. CO2 accounts for just 25-50% of greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.
– Emissions reduction targets should be in line with current Kyoto targets for other sectors
– Emissions permits should be sold by auction, not given away to existing operators