Aerospace giants back technology to provide ‘relentless’ aviation decarbonisation
The chief technology officers of seven major aerospace manufacturers have released a joint statement outlining how the firms are committed to sharing best practice to decarbonise the sector as it approaches its "third era" of electrification and digitalisation.
Chief technology officers from Airbus, The Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, GE Aviation, Rolls-Royce, Safran and United Technologies Corporation issued the joint statement to highlight how the industry is “working at an unprecedented level” to mitigate climate change impacts.
The signatories of the letter note that aircraft and engine design, the commercialisation of sustainable and alternative fuels (SAFs) and the integration of “third era” technology such as electric and hybrid-electric propulsion, digitisation, artificial intelligence (AI) will redefine the industry and help overcome decarbonisation barriers. However, the companies have also called for more enabling legislative frameworks to be created to help unlock change.
“The future of aviation is bright,” the statement reads. “Yet, in addition to the significant efforts our sector is undertaking, we also depend on the coordinated support from policymakers, regulators and governments working together to achieve these goals.
“There must be additional public and private commitment to establish a sound regulatory foundation to address the novel issues associated with emerging aviation technologies and to provide the necessary economic support for widespread SAFs commercialisation.”
The signatories claim that technological innovation will enable a “relentless pursuit of improvements in fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions” for an industry that accounts for 2% of manmade CO2 levels.
Voluntary targets set by the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe calls for aircraft and engine design to deliver a 75% reduction in CO2 levels, a 90% fall in NOx and a 65% decline in noise levels by 2050, compared with 2000 levels.
Alternative fuels are also seen as a key driver to lower emissions. Around 185,00 commercial flights have already incorporated low-carbon fuels, including from Virgin which used low-carbon jet fuel made from recycled waste gases to power one of its London to Florida flights in October 2018.
According to the joint statement, five pathways for the production of these fuels have been approved for use, including one commercial-scale production agreement. “We believe that accelerating production scale-up of all commercially viable pathways, while simultaneously developing additional lower cost pathways, is the key to success,” the statement added.
Through the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the aviation industry became the world’s first industrial sector to set a target to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels and to limit the growth of net CO2 emissions by 2020.
The signatories note that the sector is on track to meet the 2020 target, which includes the implementation, later this year, of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) which was agreed by nations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Despite the optimism from the seven firms, the climate efforts of 20 of the world’s largest airlines will not suffice even if the aviation sector is to align with the aims of the Paris Agreement and the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
That was the key finding of a new report from the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) – a research group at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute which has received backing from investors with more than $13trn in assets under management (AUM) collectively.