European aviation report “in numbers” highlights growing noise and carbon problems which will continue
European aviation ‘in numbers’ highlights significant environmental challenges ahead
The New Year saw the publication of the second European Aviation Environmental Report (EAER).
The headline message is a familiar one: “the contribution of aviation activities to climate change, noise and air quality impacts is increasing, thereby affecting the health and quality of life of European citizens”.
While there have been technological and operational improvements in recent years, and measures such as the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), their combined effect hasn’t kept pace with strong growth in the demand for air travel.
The report, a joint initiative by EuroControl, the European Environment Agency and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, assesses the performance of the aviation sector across a number of environmental indicators, comparing data for 2017 with the figures for 2014 (the date of the first EAER) and for 2005 (as a historic comparison).
Many European airports have seen significant growth during this period. In 2017, commercial flights flew a staggering 1,643 billion passenger kilometres, up 20% in just three years (around 7% per year), and 60% since 2005 (around 5% per year).
Despite the introduction of less noisy aircraft, in 2017 more people were exposed to noise than in 2005. Measured across some of Europe’s busiest 47 airports, the number of people inside the 55dB Lden noise contours (a metric that gives an extra weighting to noise during the evening and the night) rose to 2.58 million in 2017.
This is particularly disappointing, since between 2005 and 2014 the number had reduced – from 2.27 million to 2.21 million. One factor in the reversal of this trend is the slowing down of fleet technology improvements. The average noise energy per flight decreased by only 1% between 2014 and 2017 compared to a decrease of 14% between 2005 and 2017 (equivalent to over 1% per year).
Aircraft fuel efficiency improved 8% for commercial flights between 2014 and 2017, maintaining the gains seen in earlier years, and overall, measured between 2005 and 2017, average fuel consumption decreased by 24% (2% per year).
Nevertheless, the increase in flights during this period led to an increase in total emissions. Compared to 2014, gross CO2 emissions in 2017 rose by 10% to 163Mt CO2 and NOx, which has a net climate warming impact when emitted at altitude, increased by 12% to 839,000 tonnes.
This increase contributed to a 3% rise in net European aviation CO2 emissions over the three-year period. (While the EU emissions trading system imposes a cap on emissions from intra-EU flights, air travel to and from Europe from other international destinations is not included in the cap).
Aviation now accounts for 3.6% of the total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions (making the percentage of EU emissions from aviation higher than the global average).
Will things improve in the future?
It may be possible to stabilise noise exposure, the report concludes, but only under an improbable assumption that there will be no increase in population and no airport expansion, with growth permitted only within the constraints of current infrastructure.
Meanwhile the expected 42% growth in the number of flights between 2017 and 2040 is predicted to result in a 21% increase in CO2 emissions.
Alternative aviation fuels are considered likely to remain limited in the short term, and while the report identifies potential for Europe to increase its bio-based aviation fuel production capacity, airline uptake is expected to be small due to various factors, including “the cost relative to conventional aviation fuel and low priority in most national bioenergy policies.”
Meanwhile, while some in the industry had hoped that more direct routing of aircraft would deliver significant CO2 reductions, the introduction of Free Route Airspace has saved only approximately 0.5% of total aviation CO2 emissions between 2014 and 2017.
The full report can be downloaded here.
The full report (112 pages) is at
Overview of Aviation Sector
• The number of flights increased by 8% between 2014 and 2017, and grows by 42% from 2017 to 2040 in the most-likely forecast.
• Technological improvements, fleet renewal and increased operational efficiency have been able to partially counterbalance the impact of recent growth, but there has still been an increase in overall noise and emissions since 2014.
• In 2016, aviation was accountable for 3.6% of the total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions and for 13.4% of the emissions from transport.
• In 2011, aviation accounted for 3.2% of the total population exposed to Lden levels above 55 dB from all sources covered by the EU Environmental Noise Directive.
• The number of people exposed to significant noise around 47 major European airports shows potential stabilisation, but under an assumption of no change in population and no airport expansion.
• The number of major airports that handle more than 50,000 annual aircraft movements is expected to increase from 82 in 2017 to 110 in 2040, and therefore aviation noise may well affect new populations.
• The environmental efficiency of aviation continues to improve and, by 2040, further improvements are expected in average fuel burn per passenger kilometre flown (-12%) and noise energy per flight (-24%).
• By 2040, CO2 and NOX emissions are predicted to increase by at least 21% and 16% respectively
Aviation Environmental Impacts
• Long-term exposure to aircraft noise is linked with a variety of health impacts, including ischaemic heart disease, sleep disturbance, annoyance and cognitive impairment.
• The annoyance reported by residents from a given level of aircraft noise has been shown to be greater than that caused by other transport sources.
• There are good estimates for most pollutants emitted by aviation related activities that influence air quality and subsequent health effects, although knowledge gaps remain (e.g. on the impact of ultrafine particles).
• A high level of scientific understanding of the long-term climate effect from aviation CO2 emissions make it a clear and important target for mitigation efforts.
• Climate impacts from non-CO2 emissions (e.g. NOX, particles) cannot be ignored as they represent warming effects that are important in the shorter term, but the level of scientific understanding of the magnitude of the effects is medium to very low.
• More States and organisations are taking action to adapt and build resilience to the impacts that climate change will have on the aviation sector (e.g. higher temperatures, rising sea-levels).
• Market-based measures are instruments designed to address the climate impact of aviation, beyond what operational and technological measures or sustainable aviation fuels can achieve.
• Between 2013 and 2020, an estimated net saving of 193.4 Mt CO2 (twice Belgium’s annual emissions) will be achieved by aviation via the EU ETS through funding of emissions reduction in other sectors.
• In 2016, an agreement was reached at ICAO to set up the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). As of November 2018, 76 States intend to volunteer to offset their emissions from 2021, representing 76% of the international aviation activity.
• Emissions trading systems (e.g. ETS) and offsetting schemes (e.g. CORSIA) both address aviation emissions but differ in how they function. ETSs generally work towards economy-wide emission reduction targets, while offsetting schemes also compensate for emissions by reductions in other sectors but without the associated cap.
• The environmental effectiveness of offsets depends on robust implementation to ensure that the emission reductions delivered would not have occurred in the absence of the scheme.
Air Traffic Management and Operations
• En route horizontal flight efficiency is on track to meet the SES Performance Scheme 2019 target of no more than 2.60% additional distance flown.
• Airport arrival flow and taxi-out operational efficiencies have remained fairly stable over the past years.
• The introduction of Free Route Airspace has saved more than 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 since 2014 (approximately 0.5% of total aviation CO2 emissions).
• Continuous descent operations have potential for reducing both noise and CO2 , especially in the European core area.
• The full potential from operational initiatives is not always achieved due to conflicting air navigation requirements (e.g. safety, environment, economic, capacity)
CO2 and NOX emissions are continuing to grow
According to the data reported by Members States to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the CO2 emissions of all flights departing from EU28 and EFTA increased from 88 to 171 million tonnes (+95%) between 1990 and 2016 (Figure 1.9). In comparison, CO2 emissions estimated with the IMPACT model reached 163 million tonnes (Mt) in 2017, which is 16% more than 2005 and 10% more than 2014. Over the same period, the average fuel burn per passenger kilometre flown for passenger aircraft, excluding business aviation, went down by 24%. This has reduced at an average rate of 2.8% per annum between 2014 and 2017.
However, this efficiency gain was not sufficient to counterbalance the increase in CO2 emitted due to the growth in the number of flights, aircraft size and flown distance.
Future CO2 emissions under the base traffic forecast and advanced technology scenario are expected to increase by a further 21% to reach 198 Mt in 2040. The annual purchase of allowances by aircraft operators under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) since 2013 resulted in a reduction of 27 Mt of net CO2 emissions in 2017, which should rise to about 32 Mt by 2020.