Industry Issues


The global aviation industry takes its environmental impacts seriously. AIA and American manufacturers are committed to playing our part in reducing the climate, noise and air quality impacts of our products.


Given the global nature of aviation, addressing environmental impacts is most effective when it is done at the international level with common rules that apply to all countries. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialist branch of the United Nations concerned with aviation. One of its many roles is to set new standards and policies for aviation and its environmental performance.


Aviation is a relatively small contributor to emissions – with only 2.4% of U.S. CO2 emissions coming from commercial aircraft sources, and a further 1.1% from other aircraft – including those used by the military. By contrast, passenger cars and light duty trucks – including SUVs, pickup trucks and Minivans, emit 21.2% of U.S. CO2. Globally, emissions from aviation are roughly comparable to those from the IT sector.

While the emissions from aviation are lower than several sectors, the industry understands how important it is to play our part in reducing climate impacts.


In 2008, AIA and U.S. manufacturers were part of the industry-wide agreement that saw aviation became the first industrial sector to set goals to reduce its climate impact:

  • Short-term: 1.5% per annum fuel efficiency improvements. Industry have exceeded this goal, realizing on average 2.3% per annum improvements so far.
  • Mid-term: Carbon-neutral growth from 2020. With ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), aviation became the first industry to agree to a voluntary global cap on CO2 emissions. International emissions above 2020 levels will be required to be offset by the aviation sector.
  • Long-term: 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

The graph below illustrates the industry’s short, medium and long-term CO2 reduction goals. The red line shows what CO2 emissions would look like if the industry took no action, whereas the green line illustrates actual CO2 emissions to date and the pathway to our 2050 goal.

  • The purple area illustrates the CO2 savings already achieved through new aircraft technologies, along with operational and infrastructure improvements.
  • Emissions will be capped at the 2020 level. Any growth above this point that can not be mitigated through improvements in technology, operations or infrastructure, or through sustainable aviation fuels, will need to be offset by market-based measures – shown in blue.
  • Over time, less offsets will be required as new technologies and sustainable aviation fuels help us achieve our reductions goal for 2050.

U.S. EPA, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2017 (April 2019), Table ES – 3: CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion by End-Use Sector (MMT CO2 Eq.) and accompanying text at ES-12.


Aircraft Technology is one of the basket of measures to address climate change. Aircraft manufacturers have a strong track-record of delivering aircraft that are more environmentally friendly than their predecessors.

Modern aircraft are now 80% more fuel efficient than the first airliners. A flight today produces 50% less CO2 than the same flight in 1990.

Each new aircraft generation improves fuel efficiency by 15% to 25% on a per passenger mile basis. Today’s latest airliners are now as fuel efficient as a hybrid electric car, all while making journeys that would not be possible or feasible by other transportation means.

The U.S. manufacturers provide a significant portion of the on average $15 billion per annum spent by manufacturers worldwide on efficiency research and development.

In the long-term, new technologies, including electrification, will offer additional avenues to reduce CO2 emissions from air travel – at least over shorter distances. However, aerospace companies already operate at the forefront of technology and aircraft being produced today will remain in service for several decades. It’s therefore crucial that we make use of all tools at our disposal.

Operational Improvements

More accurate navigation technology mean aircraft can fly more direct routes and burn less fuel. Overall in the U.S., implementation of NextGen enhancements to the National Airspace System (NAS) is expected to deliver 2.8 billion gallons of fuel savings through 2030.

Additional efficiencies can be gained through operational practices by airlines – through flight planning, flight operations, cabin utilization, and other business practices.

In 2016 the ICAO General Assembly formally adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA),

This made aviation the first sector to agree to a global market-based measure to curb CO2 emissions.

Emissions will be benchmarked at 2020 levels and increases will need to be offset by the sector.

Sustainable aviation fuels can reduce life cycle emissions by 80% without changes to aircraft and fueling infrastructure – essential considerations for aviation meeting its emissions reduction goals.

AIA strongly supports alternative fuels and is a founding member of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI).

Several AIA members already use sustainable fuels for certification, testing, and fleet support purposes to aid commercialization efforts.


The aviation industry knows that as well as being responsible stewards for the climate and global environment, we also need to be good neighbors. For AIA and its members, this means ensuring the aircraft we produce meet the highest standards for noise and air quality.


For communities living in the vicinity of airports, aircraft noise can be disturbing. Manufacturers realize the importance of reducing the noise from aircraft, and just like with fuel efficiency, there have been enormous improvements in aircraft noise performance over time.


Modern aircraft have noise footprints up to 90% smaller than the first generation of jet aircraft; the latest Stage 5 noise standards require aircraft which are certified as new types after 2017 to be a further 7dB quieter than the previous Stage 4 standard.

Noise Exposure

These improvements in aircraft performance have had a profound impact in the number of people disturbed by aircraft noise.

The FAA recognizes a noise level of 65 DNL (A noise metric which measures cumulative noise exposure over an average 24 hours) as representing significant noise exposure.

Since 1975, the number of people exposed to this level of noise has fallen from 7 million to 454 thousand, while the number of enplanements has more than quadrupled from around 202 million to 890 million during the same period.


As well as the noise level of an aircraft, how it is operated is also an important consideration when trying to reduce noise. For instance:

  • Continuous climb or descent operations allow aircraft to get higher quicker and stay higher longer.
  • Preferred runway or flightpath usage can route flights away from populated areas at night.
  • Runway alternation can provide respite to certain locations.

Operational decisions about how aircraft noise is managed can reduce the number of people affected by noise but can also expose new or additional people to more noise. Stakeholder and community consultation are therefore essential when exploring these options.


AIA works with ICAO to set emissions standards for all known pollutants from aircraft and continuously reviews whether they can be strengthened to reflect developments in new technology.

Standards are now in place for the following aircraft engine emissions, as well as CO2:

  • Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx)
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Hydrocarbons (HC)
  • Non-volatile Particulate Matter (nvPM)

NOx is an important component of air quality and reducing NOx emissions has traditionally been the focus of industry efforts. Over several decades, increasingly strict standards have driven down emissions from aircraft and they now have less impact on air quality than emissions from road traffic.


Leslie Riegle

Assistant Vice President, Civil Aviation