The last decade has seen a proliferation of aviation sector — mostly driven by affordable international trips and growing middle class, globally. That might be good news for tourists and tourism sectors for many nations. However, the dark side to this growth has been its contribution to spiralling environmental issues. The aviation industry has been burning jet fuel relentlessly, damaging the upper atmospheric layers by adding carbon emission at an exponential rate. The heat-trapping greenhouse gases have been warming up our planet and the implications of climate change have never been more visible as they are now.
The talks, the discussions and the plans to reduce the industry’s dependence on fossil fuels by switching to bio-jet fuels have been thrown out of the window. The investment targets in the bio-jet fuels have been at an all-time low. Carbon dioxide has now been rising at least four times higher than what it was a decade ago. The number of climate action proponents has been increasing, most of them have been demanding to curb the expansion of aviation generated carbon emission — either by urging more people to take fewer flights — read ‘Flight Shaming’ — or by asking authorities to embrace bio-jet fuels for further air travel or including more electric planes in the fleet.
The rate of jet fuel burning has been unprecedented; it has been increasing by an additional 44 million litres every day! At that kind of rate, the day isn’t afar when the aviation industry might be adding a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year into the atmosphere of the earth and wreaking havoc on climate. What solutions do we have at our disposal? The optimists have been relying on the inclusion of bio-jet fuels and electric planes and have been hoping these alternatives to fossil fuels could help clean up flying. The newspapers abuzz with hopeful stories how electric jetliners could solve our climate problems; however, nothing could be further from the truth — at least in near future — and so far, the electric jetliners replacing the conventional planes has been entirely in the realms of fantasy. A significant amount of aviation-related CO2 emission — somewhere around 80 per cent — comes from long-haul flights of over 1500 km in length and hitherto, all the proposed electric planes plan to fly much lesser distance and isn’t anywhere close to 1500 km. Electrifying commercial aviation would require enormous investments. We would need to develop, test and produce a massive fleet of electric planes; further, the airports would need electricity supplies which could quickly charge multiple jetliners simultaneously. Barring the short-haul flights, electrification of commercial aircraft does not seem feasible within a timeframe of the next thirty years! And with the number of long-haul flights increasing rapidly, it is estimated that in just five years they alone might cross today’s total aviation emission.
The other alternative to fossil fuel is using bio-jet fuel for aviation sector which its proponents believe can help reduce up to 80 per cent of carbon footprints. Experts suggest that to lower emissions, the only way is to produce huge quantities of bio-jet fuel. This, in addition to capping the number of flights, can — to some extent — help reduce the global aviation emission. The truth is: investments in bio-jet fuels have been declining drastically over the last decade — today, it’s down 90 per cent than what it was a decade ago. The industry can not gainsay the mounting pressure it feels to include bio-jet fuels if it wants to grow. However, its reluctance to pay for a higher price of bio-jets has led to this dramatic decline in the production of bio-jet fuels. Unless the industry finds and includes sustainable aviation fuel which does the least damage to our already bruised environment, the aviation industry will continue to have major negative impacts over our environment and climate.