Aviation is under increased scrutiny for its impact on the environment. The aviation industry as a whole produces 2 to 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Without intervention, commercial aircraft emissions are expected to triple by 2050 compared with 2015 levels, as passenger volume increases and other industries accelerate decarbonization efforts.
Looking to improve sustainability efforts, the aviation industry announced in 2021 its commitment and climate pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Much of this attention is centered around the transition to alternative and “clean” fuels because it is one of the primary ways for the industry to reduce its fossil fuel reliance.
Recent developments, including United Airlines’ sustainable investment fund and Delta Air Lines’ efforts to reduce its environmental impact, are examples of the types of innovation that are getting the most attention when it comes to meeting our goals.
However, decarbonization cannot be limited to waiting for widespread fleet renewals or the transition to alternative sustainable fuels to become commonplace. As an industry, we need to look at the entire process, including ground operations, airport design, passenger processing and more. Decarbonization of operations is not only “nice to have”; it is an imperative for the industry. Significant operational and infrastructure efficiencies supported by technology can be achieved today to reduce industry emissions by up to 10%.
Pressure to decrease emissions is ramping up
Passengers are becoming more climate-conscious and are prioritizing travel methods that have a positive impact on the environment. Companies worldwide face growing public, customer and investor pressures to disclose and reduce their environmental impact, particularly carbon emissions. Adding to the pressure is the financial dimension of rising fuel and energy prices.
The aviation industry has responded by stepping up its decarbonization plans, making net zero by 2050 commitments.
Technology investment priorities
Airports and airlines constantly leverage new technological advancements and innovations to improve operations. By looking to existing and emerging technologies to optimize operations to decrease emissions, aviation can make an impact today while longer-term solutions such as sustainable aviation fuels become mainstream.
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Collaboration and data will be key to tackling decarbonization and driving operational efficiencies, from tracking emissions to providing greater awareness among relevant stakeholders for better decision-making around emission reduction efforts.
Reports show the industry is prioritizing technology investments, including a focus on data exchange with 83% of airports and 82% of airlines planning to invest in data exchange technologies.
By 2025, 73% of airports and 70% of airlines are planning a data center shift from dedicated infrastructure to an energy-efficient cloud, reflecting the growing importance of data and increasing technology investments by the industry to reduce its emissions related to fossil-fuel energy use.
More and more airlines are looking to deploy efficiency solutions to reduce their fuel consumption and their carbon footprint to complement other long-term fuel savings initiatives (fleet renewal with new generation aircraft and use of sustainable aviation fuel). For example, inflight fuel efficiency solutions, like SITA OptiFlight, optimize key flight phases by leveraging machine-learning technology and historical flight data and weather forecasts. The solution provides pilots with fuel-saving recommendations inflight proven to reduce fuel burn and deliver tangible cost savings.
By focusing on the decarbonization of aviation’s operations, the industry has an opportunity to act now and continue efforts towards our collective net zero goals.
A more sustainable future
Aviation has been addressing its environmental impacts for many years, including air quality, noise and emissions. Sustainability is gaining momentum; with the recent increase and return to travel, global travel is expected to grow by 40%, and along with it, a rise in carbon emissions. Looking ahead, we need to work collectively to provide a sustainable travel experience for passengers, society and future generations. By taking proactive and faster action today, we can reduce our carbon impact and foster a more sustainable environment to help achieve the long-term net zero by 2050 target.
Phocuswright Europe 2023
Ready to discuss and debate the future of the industry and where we go from here? Join Phocuswright Europe in Barcelona, June 12-14.