How aviation can grow and still deliver on sustainability

The following article appeared on the TTG website on Monday 14 July

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association and council member of Sustainable Aviation Council, on how the industry can develop in line with its green ambitions

Aviation is crucial to UK plc. It is an important sector in its own right, supporting one million jobs, £50bn GDP and over £8bn in Treasury revenues. It also helps sustain this country’s tourism sector – three out of four inbound tourists come to the UK by air, whilst the outbound tourism economy, massively dependent on aviation, plays an essential part in securing 2.5 million tourist jobs in the UK.

As the country builds on the recovery, aviation and tourism will need to expand, to enable it to play its part in helping to generate economic growth and to provide the links we need to existing and emerging markets so we can compete in the so-called ‘global race’. Yet there is often a common perception amongst policy makers and the public that growth in aviation will inevitably mean an increase in carbon emissions and noise. This perception is misguided.

In 2005, UK aviation organisations – including airlines, airports, aircraft and engine manufacturers, and air traffic service providers Nats – forged a world first coalition called Sustainable Aviation (SA), enabling the sector to work to deliver ‘cleaner, quieter, smarter’ flying. In 2012, SA produced a Carbon Road-Map which showed how aviation can increase its air traffic movements (ATMs) by 90% to 2050 without any significant increase in carbon emissions, thanks to newer fleets, better operational measures, increasing sustainable fuels uptake and carbon trading.

Then in 2013, SA launched its Noise Road-Map, which showed how aviation can grow – again by 90% ATMs to 2050 – without increasing its noise output thanks to newer, quieter planes, better routing of aircraft and ensuring that land use planning policies are geared to improving where houses, schools and hospitals are built close to airports.

Following on from this, by the end of this year SA will launch a Sustainable Fuels Road-Map, which will show how the development of sustainable aviation fuels can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over fossil kerosene, whilst also meeting stringent sustainability standards and avoiding land use change (such as tropical deforestation).

The ambition for sustainable aviation fuels will only be realised, however, if the UK government takes steps to actively support and remove barriers to the development of these new technologies, to reduce investor risk in bringing the technology to commercial scale, to stimulate the market, and to level the playing field with fuel incentives in other sectors.

It is clear that with the sector, government and suppliers all working together, sustainable fuels could be – as Willie Walsh, the chief executive of International Airlines Group, says – the “silver bullet” to enable accelerated sustainable growth in our sector.

And so, it is evident that aviation can both grow and deliver on carbon and noise at the same time – and we hope that policy makers and the public will see this too. The challenge for the sector now is to deliver ‘cleaner, quieter, smarter’ flying both now and in the years ahead, creating vibrant aviation and tourism sectors in the UK whilst also leading the world on that all-important sustainability agenda.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association council member of Sustainable Aviation Council