Frequently Asked Questions
What is the relationship between commercial aviation and the environment?
Commercial aviation has no alternative to petroleum-based fuel. As with any engine that uses hydrocarbon fuels, one of the results is the emission of carbon dioxide. As climate change has become a more pressing issue in the international community, U.S. commercial aviation manufacturers have made it a priority to minimize our environmental impact as much as possible, including developing bio-fuels.
What is commercial aviation's track record on environmental performance?
Aviation has a very good track record. Emissions have been reducing dramatically since the first generation of commercial jet engines came into wide use in the 1950s and 1960s. Fleet fuel efficiency has improved 70 percent over the last 40 years and we have reduced NOX and noise footprint. Technological improvements have resulted in increased efficiency of the aircraft. The reason is a fortunate marrying of economics and environmental advocacy – more efficiency means less fuel burned, which saves the airlines money.
Why have I heard more about this issue in the last couple of years?
In some areas, aviation has been targeted by environmental advocates. These individuals have been vocal in their criticism from time to time and made some headlines. While well intentioned, their argument stems from a lack of information of aviation's history of environmental performance and plans for even more advances in the future.
What is the outlook for aviation's environmental impact in the future, both short term and long term?
The aviation industry plans to make its good record even better.Significant environmental enhancements are coming to aviation on several levels. On the manufacturing front, new aircraft models are set to come online in the next few years that will provide gains in efficiency of up to 20 percent. The models, exemplified by the Boeing 787, use composite materials for most of the aircraft, a considerable leap forward in construction. They will be powered by advanced engines that provide increased efficiency. On the operations side of aviation, there are pockets of advanced air traffic control technology being implemented around the country that once again result in more efficiency. There has even been an emphasis on keeping aircraft clean to maximize aerodynamics.
Over the long term, efforts are already underway for even further technological advancement. Engine companies are working on totally new technologies that will take efficiency to a new level in the future. And those companies have joined with airlines and airframers to test various new alternative fuels, which have great potential to decrease reliance on petroleum and reduce emissions. Operations will become dramatically improved as the NextGen air transportation system is further implemented around the country. The system, based on ADS-B technology that uses satellites for navigation rather than radar, promises an additional leap in air travel efficiency.
What role does the aviation manufacturing community play regarding the environment?
Manufacturers have a special role to play in environmental efforts because their innovations provide the basis for the bulk of system-wide efficiency improvements. Each generation of aircraft has seen significant advances in technology and innovation that have allowed airlines to fly more passengers greater distances at higher speed while using less fuel. The innovative spirit that brought us jetliners, wide bodies, jumbo jets and two-engine long haul aircraft is now being unleashed on environmental improvement.