Operations - Turn Green

Issue: 09-2009By Group Captain (Retd) Joseph Noronha

Green business aviation is a continuous process of increasing efficiency, as well as reducing emissions, mainly through technological innovation

Of late, business Aviation seems to Have acquired a dreadful image—right there with the tobacco companies, which heedlessly endanger health, and investment banks whose ‘fat cat’ executives recklessly squander money, then pocket hefty bonuses as a matter of right. As such, the aviation industry is often perceived as being wasteful and the most widespread opinion appears to be: “Aviation is for the rich, and business aviation is for the filthy rich.” Besides, green campaigners claim that private jet passengers cause more damage to the environment than users of any form of transport, barring space travel. Reason: the average corporate jet usually has just two or three passengers on board.

Impact on Environment

Aviation has long-term climate change effects due to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and short-term impacts from other emissions, which include water vapour, particles and Nitrogen Oxide (NO2). According to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), worldwide, directly fuelled transportation accounts for 14 per cent of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions into the atmosphere. All of aviation accounts for just 2 per cent of CO2. In 2005, however, a panel of experts reporting to the IPCC increased its estimate of aviation’s share to 4.9 per cent. Although this figure has yet to gain widespread acceptance, aviation is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing sources of CO2 emissions. These are forecast to increase at 3 to 4 per cent per year and, if left unchecked, could well account for 15 to 20 per cent of all CO2 emissions by 2050. Reason enough to act now.

What is business aviation’s share? In the US, 224,000 general aviation (GA) airplanes, which constitute 60 per cent of the world’s GA fleet, reportedly account for just 0.6 per cent of GHG emissions from the entire US transportation sector and less than 0.2 per cent of global GHG emissions. So, worldwide business aviation emissions would fall well short of 1 per cent. Although corporate jets are currently in the limelight, a large number of business aircraft are turboprops and pistons, which are rather fuel-efficient. If emissions from business aviation are minimal, why does it attract so much criticism? Its high profile may be to blame.

The attitude of many businessmen to climate change may also be responsible. According to the UK Barclaycard Commercial Business Travel Survey in August, of the 15 per cent business travellers who anticipated travelling less this year, three out of five will be doing this in response to declining business or cost issues, and only 1 per cent as a result of company environmental policy. Further, according to a US study released in July, only 9 per cent of customers are willing to pay more to use airlines that offer eco-friendly options, while just 3 per cent have ever purchased a carbon offset for air travel.

Immediate Action

Companies can no longer afford to be indifferent. In the long term, what is good for the planet is good for everyone—and that includes businesses and business aviation. Green business aviation is a continuous process of increasing efficiency, as well as reducing emissions, mainly through technological innovation. Better aerodynamics, greener fuel sources (such as bio-fuels and fuel cells), route optimisation, efficient air traffic management (ATM) and economic incentives—all help.

Bombardier plans to design the most fuel-efficient aircraft with the lowest noise and emissions in each category. Several manufacturers, such as Boeing, are aggressively using composites to develop lighter aircraft, ultimately improving fuel consumption and reducing emissions. Boeing is also testing sustainable and viable bio-fuels. Cessna is going green by recycling materials such as aluminium and paper, designing lighter aircraft and working with suppliers, especially engine makers, to develop more efficient systems. Perhaps the greatest contribution can be by lighter and more economical engines. High-bypass-ratio engines, such as Pratt & Whitney’s PW308C that will power Dassault Aviation’s Falcon 2000DX, are quieter and have lower specific fuel consumption.