Aviation

Aviation

Commercial aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions, and about 12% of all CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. But CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft are on a pace to triple by 2050, as both passenger air travel and air freight surge worldwide, and aviation’s share of transportation-sector emissions is ballooning as cars and trucks become more fuel efficient. No serious attempt to face the problem of climate change can fail to address commercial aviation. And carbon emissions are not the only environmental challenge posed by a growing aviation sector. Nitrogen oxides, particulates, noise, and lead pollution also impact often disadvantaged communities living near airports.

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About the program

Commercial aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions, and about 12% of all CO2 emissions from the transportation sector. But CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft are on a pace to triple by 2050, as both passenger air travel and air freight surge worldwide, and aviation’s share of transportation-sector emissions is ballooning as cars and trucks become more fuel efficient. No serious attempt to face the problem of climate change can fail to address commercial aviation. And carbon emissions are not the only environmental challenge posed by a growing aviation sector. Nitrogen oxides, particulates, noise, and lead pollution also impact often disadvantaged communities living near airports.

Since 2008 ICCT’s aviation program has worked to ensure that environmental policy for the aviation sector is informed by high-quality, transparent analysis of the environmental performance of both aircraft and airlines. We’ve pursued that goal through research on aircraft technology development, airline fuel efficiency, environmental standard design, and the use of alternative fuels in aviation. Thanks to its membership in groups like the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), ICCT is able to contribute research directly to government agencies like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to pragmatically inform the design of policies to reduce to environmental impact of flying. ICCT research also supports efforts by consumers to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel and efforts by progressive industry groups  at the forefront of aviation environmental protection.

Historical passenger car fuel economy and regulatory milestones in the U.S.

Correctly designed and implemented, a performance standard can act as a stimulant to innovation and technology adoption. A good example is the automotive industry in the United States. The Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standard (CAFE), first implemented in 1975 by NHTSA, spurred a dramatic increase in average fleet economy over the first twelve years of the CAFE program—though high fuel prices also had an effect, the CAFE mandate was more important. New-car fuel economy in the US then stagnated between 1985 and early 2000, because the CAFE standard did not require further improvements from industry. When the stringent California greenhouse gas (GHG) standard was adopted by twelve states representing one-third of the US market in 2004, followed by adoption of a similar national standard by the US Federal government in 2009, we saw a renewed uptick in fuel economy.

Meanwhile, in the aviation sector, the only policy related to fuel efficiency, ICAO’s new aircraft CO2 emissions standard, is not expected to reduce emissions further than what is already happening in the business-as-usual scenario, even if it's implemented by all ICAO’s member states. This technology-following, instead of technology-forcing, standard cannot be expected to promote revolutionary fuel-efficiency improvements in the global fleet like that of the passenger vehicle in the US.

—from “Maximizing aircraft fuel efficiency: Listen to the experts

Recent publications

U.S. domestic airline fuel efficiency ranking, 2015–2016

A sharp increase in revenue passenger miles drove both profits and fuel consumption on domestic operations up between 2014 and 2016 for U.S. airlines. Alaska Airlines again ranked first in overall fuel-efficiency, while the gap between it and the least fuel-efficient carrier, Virgin America in 2016, widened slightly to 26%.

2017.12.14 | White paper
Alternative jet fuels: Case study of commercial-scale deployment

Looks into the potential and challenges of commercial-scale alternative jet fuel (AJF) production and use based on United Airlines and AltAir’s experience including its challenges, successes, and lessons learned. 

2017.10.24 | Working paper
Alternative jet fuel development and deployment in North America

Evaluates the trajectory of GHG emissions from international aviation in the U.S. and Canada as well as the possible GHG reductions that could be made from deployment of alternative jet fuels (AJFs) within the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

2017.05.30 | Briefing
See all publications

Staff blog

Delta should double down on CSeries, fuel savings

Bombardier's new aircraft is mired in trade disputes, and that's creating some uncertainty over Delta Air Lines' order for 75 CS100 planes. But if Delta keeps its eye on the fuel savings it will reap—and remembers that the clean-sheet design CSeries is going to easily meet the ICAO CO2 standard—it will buy those aircraft, and more.

[Interview with Dr. Juan Alonso] Maximizing aircraft fuel efficiency

Staff