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.

Dan Rutherford, aviation and marine program director.

Aviation is a major contributor to climate pollution, accounting for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions—30% of which is attributable to US aircraft alone. And aviation's share of global carbon emissions is growing: the Federal Aviation Administration projects that aviation activity will increase 2% to 3% annually through 2037.

“With airline profits surging, we need to explore environmental and consumer protections if the U.S. is going to cap aviation carbon emissions from 2020 as it has committed to do,” said Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s aviation program director and co-author of the paper. In 2015, the U.S. government set an aspirational goal of capping CO2 emissions from U.S. commercial carriers at 2005 levels from 2020.

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

Recent publications

Transpacific airline fuel efficiency ranking, 2016

Compares the fuel efficiency of 20 airlines operating nonstop flights between the mainland United States and East Asia and Oceania and extends the previous transatlantic fuel efficiency methodology to the transpacific market.

2018.01.16 | White paper
Canada-U.S. transborder airline fuel-efficiency ranking

Comparison of the fuel efficiency of airlines serving 10 transborder routes between Canada and the United State for the 12 months between March 2016 and February 2017. 

2017.12.27 | Working paper
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
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