The aviation industry felt the arrival of the Coronavirus in 2020. The number of flights dropped by three-quarters compared to 2019 figures. Hence, the aviation sector made massive losses but did the world a favour by causing a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike other industries that could shift their operations online, the transportation industry could not. People could still play free spins games online but could not take flights.
The aviation sector had to wait for the lockdowns in different countries to end. Now that the airlines are active again, aviation expects to restore the 2019 flight levels by 2023. It also anticipates achieving its past growth projects in a few decades. Aviation working again is a benefit to those who depend on flights to travel and do business. However, it is bad news for the earth because of increased CO2 and non-CO2 emissions.
For the aviation sector to achieve its previous growth projections, it must intensify its operations. Sadly, this will triple greenhouse emissions by 2050. For the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, aviation should push its carbon emissions to zero by 2050. But how will the industry achieve this goal when it is so complicated to decarbonise it? It will probably do this by first solving the problems that lead to more carbon emissions.
First, it must find ways to improve the fuel efficiency of an aircraft. Planes use jet kerosene, a fossil fuel that provides high energy density for flying. As there are no substitutes now, the sector’s only way to enhance fuel-efficiency is to use more modern aircraft. For instance, twin-engine aircraft can minimise carbon emissions by thirty per cent per flight. So airlines can renew and upgrade their planes to help achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
As the aviation industry continues to study low-carbon fuels, like advanced waste biofuels and sustainable aviation fuels, it will have to upgrade its fleets first. The sector is also waiting for the arrival of electric planes, which will be more efficient than the current planes. But these planes will probably solve part of the crisis because they will use battery power, which may only support shorter routes.
Aeroplanes emit other noxious gases at high altitudes. They also contribute about 2.5% of world non-carbon emissions. So aviation must do something to minimise the non-CO2 emissions. Contrail warming effects arise from the flights that fly at night. The ones that travel during the day do not contribute to the overall eighty per cent of contrail warming. The sector will continue to set policies to help control non-CO2 emissions.
Aviation will not achieve its zero-emission policy by 2050 if some companies continue to manufacture aircraft that cause even more pollution. Boom Supersonic creates very fast planes with higher fuel consumption than the typical aircraft. Also, noisy supersonics will fly in the stratosphere where they might cause non-CO2 emissions, according to Dan Rutherford. Dan is the aviation director at the International Council on Clean Transportation.
Rutherford also claims that developing such planes could distract the aviation industry from achieving its zero-emissions goals by 2050. He adds that the best way to stop global warming from supersonic planes is to have the manufacturer meet the same environmental standards as other manufacturers.