Air congestion requires new initiatives and more innovation to stem the escalating carbon dioxide emissions from air transport.
The UN Organization for Civil Aviation, ICAO, recently announced that in 2021 they intend to introduce a global instrument for international flights’ carbon emissions. Sanctions that demand the purchase of emission credits will hit airlines when they fail to meet the ICAO’s level for carbon emissions based on the 2020 level. But this alone is not enough – more initiatives are required to curb the steady increase in carbon emissions.
Air traffic worldwide is increasing and Europe currently has one of the most congested airspaces in the world. Forecasts from Eurocontrol predict an increase in passenger traffic by over 50 per cent in 2035 compared to 2012.
One of the obstacles to deploying an environmentally friendly air capacity is the heavily fragmented European airspace, with the market largely serviced by national providers in monopoly-like conditions. Here we are talking about some 40 air traffic service providers in Europe.
Estimates from the European Commission show additional costs in the range of €5 billion per year and more than 40 km further flights per trip when compared with the average flight. This in turn leads to increased fuel consumption, carbon emissions and costs.
Single European Sky initiative, which was established by the EU in 1999, has the goal to restructure European airspace and to increase capacity and efficiency. The level of their ambitions is high – to triple capacity, tenfold safety, cut environmental impact by 10 per cent and reduce costs by half.
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Although the impact of the initiative so far has been relatively limited, they have given rise to cross-border cooperation in the form of alliances and partnerships in which the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration is one of the leading players.
One example is the Borealis Alliance, which accounts for 38 per cent of air traffic in Europe, and aims to allow airlines to fly the shortest possible route. It is estimated to reduce the flight paths of about 5 million nautical miles per year, cutting fuel consumption by 26 000 tonnes per year and slashing carbon dioxide emissions by 83 000 tons per year.
Another example is NUAC – an intergovernmental cooperation between the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration and the Danish Navair – to provide air navigation services in the Danish-Swedish airspace. In addition, the so-called COOPANS alliance has established a technical cooperation to improve the conditions for a more efficient operation and reduced engineering costs.
New innovative solutions such as digital air traffic is another example of an initiative that looks to increase efficiency, lower costs, increase security and cut environmental impact. This is an area in which the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration and Saab Technologies are world leaders. However, a concerted effort and increased proactivity with more innovative initiatives are required for civil aviation to fully take on their environmental responsibilities and contribute to the continued development and growth.
Anders Adrem is an aviation expert at PA Consulting Group