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Environmental Impact Of Aviation And Sustainable Solutions

by | Aug 14, 2022 | Environment

Transportation contributes immensely toward the health and well-being of a nation’s economy. Among all the transportation methods, aviation has evolved into the safest, fastest, and most far-reaching mode of transportation. The ability to move people and products worldwide in such short intervals has greatly benefitted the global economy. The aviation industry provides jobs to 56 million people worldwide. It is also responsible for 35% of all world trade. In this article, we’re going to explore the environmental impact of aviation and sustainable solutions. Aviation contributes to our quality of life. It allows us to meet our friends, relatives, and loved ones scattered all across the globe. It lets us travel and experience new places. But, it affects the Earth’s environment. The noise from airplanes affects people living near airports. The aircraft engines consume vast amounts of energy and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Stormwater runoff from airports pollutes rivers, streams, and wetlands. Emissions from airplanes not only affect regional air quality but also have an impact on the broader climate. Because of aviation’s success on a global scale, aircraft operations are consuming increasing amounts of fuel and producing more emissions and noise. Today, an aircraft’s environmental impacts, like engine noise and emissions, are small but highly significant fractions of the consequences of fossil fuel consumption. The expected growth of the aviation sector makes it essential for us to address inefficiencies and ways to reduce emissions within the industry. Aviation must develop sustainably if it is to continue meeting the needs of a growing economy and population. The world today needs an aviation industry that can continue to thrive without damaging the environment. We need airplanes that make our climate tolerable, clean our air and water, and limit noise impacts. Aviation must be environmentally sustainable and operate while respecting nature.

Emissions from Aviation

In addition to airplanes, even trucks, cars, and other vehicles operating at an airport release greenhouse gas emissions due to fuel combustion. The fuel used in an aircraft is primarily hydrogen and carbon. Therefore, combustion in aircraft engines releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O). The exhaust of aircraft engines emits 70% of carbon dioxide and 30% of water vapor. Other pollutants like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons account for less than 1% of exhaust emissions. Generally, an aircraft releases around 10% of its total emissions close to the surface of the Earth, i.e., less than 3000 feet above the ground. The airplane releases the other 90% of emissions at an altitude above 3000 feet. Emissions at this height have a more significant warming effect. Carbon dioxide’s impact on the climate is the same regardless of altitude. But the other greenhouse gases like water vapor and nitrogen oxide are more potent at trapping heat at higher altitudes. Scientists refer to this variability in greenhouse gas potency as a ‘multiplier’.

Global co2 emissions from aviation

Source

Aircraft are not the only source of emissions from aviation. Even ground support vehicles, airport access vehicles, and buses and cars that people use to travel to and from the airport are responsible for aviation emissions. Other emission sources at airports include air conditioners and heaters and the electricity required to keep the airport running. Even though aviation has grown faster than other modes of transportation, its emissions have remained modest. That means emissions from the aviation industry have not increased proportionately/linearly with the increase in the number of people taking flights.

The Environmental Impacts of Aviation

Emissions from aircraft impact both the local air quality and the global climate. When we compare aviation to other economic sectors, the industry is a relatively small contributor to climate change. Aviation is responsible for only around 2.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. But, most of the emissions from aircraft occur in the climatically-sensitive upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. Because of the release of emissions at high altitudes, people living away from the place an aircraft emits carbon can significantly feel its impact.

Free White and Red Plane Beside Clouds Low-angle Photography Stock Photo

Even though aviation accounts for only 2.5% of global carbon emissions, its contribution to climate change is much higher. This is because an airplane releases gases higher up in the atmosphere, which can cause much more warming. Currently, only 3% of the world’s population takes regular flights. If every person on the planet were to take one long-haul flight a year, aviation emissions would far exceed the total carbon emissions of the United States. Apart from emissions, even the noise from aircraft affects people and the environment. The noise from airplanes disrupts the navigation of animals like bats that depend on sound to move around. Loud noises also cause changes in the behavioral and reproduction patterns of some birds and insects. A study found that children living around noisy airports couldn’t focus on studying. They were less productive than their peers at school that lived relatively far from the airport. Even adults underperformed at work. Researchers found that people living around airports had high stress and anxiety levels. In some cases, aircraft engine noise causes noise-induced hearing loss in adults.

Solutions for sustainable Aviation

The National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States developed a five-pillar environmental approach to mitigating emissions from the aviation industry. Other countries, too, can observe, model, and develop their own system to tackle aviation emissions. The NAS’s approach includes: Pillar 1 – Scientific Knowledge and Modelling Governments and airline organizations must base emissions mitigation decisions on a solid scientific foundation. We need continued investments in research to develop a better understanding of the impacts of aviation. Pillar 2 – Air Traffic Management We need to improve infrastructure and operational capabilities that function more efficiently. We must improve energy efficiency to mitigate environmental impacts. Air traffic management can increase the efficiency of aircraft operations. It reduces fuel consumption, which further reduces CO2 emissions. Reassessing navigation routes and flight paths with an environmental perspective can help cut emissions and flight time. Pillar 3 – New Aircraft and Airport Technologies The greatest reduction in aviation’s environmental impacts have come from emerging new technologies. Advancements in technology can help develop quieter, cleaner aircraft that operate more efficiently with less energy. Environmentally promising aircraft technologies can reduce aircraft noise and emissions. Pillar 4 – Sustainable Alternative Fuels Developing cleaner, greener, and more sustainable fuels can help the aviation industry achieve environmental, economic, and energy stability. Governments and private industries need to work together to support research into alternative fuels. Pillar 5 – Policies and Environmental Standards Developing and implementing policies and standards will encourage the aviation industry to integrate technology to cut emissions. Even private, individual airlines can develop their own standards to reduce emissions. Government can develop economic incentives to promote CO2 emission reductions in aircraft. Apart from the 5-pillar approach above, you as an individual can also help. Take fewer flights. Try using the railways instead. Only collective action can change this world. Every little action counts.

 

Author

  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.

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