Aviation and Environment Compatibility: see ECOLOGY in TECHNOLOGY

To achieve compatibility between aviation and the environment, global aviation and planet Earth need a comprehensive White Paper.  Aviation analyst and Airports International’s International Correspondent, Professor Inderjit Singh, has one ready.
Aviation, the world’s most global industry, is caught today in a tug-of-war between increasing air traffic and the urgent need to reduce the ever-increasing deterioration of the environment.  What place can airports and airlines hold in a world clamouring to halt the destruction of greenfield areas, gasping for cleaner air to breathe, and begging for a little peace and quiet?  It seems that the aviation industry is in a ‘Catch 22’ situation: it has to grow, which is likely to be environmentally damaging, and yet it wants earnestly to undertake environmental protection.  There is a dilemma whether to control the problem by airport land-use planning, changing the aircraft type or enforcing suitable guidelines and legislations.
So, how do we make aviation environmentally friendly?  Don’t fly!  That appears to be the view of some of the more extreme – and increasingly vocal – environmental activists.  While air travel is growing rapidly, so are protests and resistance against the development of airport projects.  For over a decade now, a major issue for the aviation industry has been to overcome these challenges that are seemingly in conflict with the requirements of the environmental regulators and concerns of local residents.  Communities feel that airports have fallen short in tackling the broad range of environmental issues associated with day-to-day operations. Recent case studies show that community activists and government environmental authorities are becoming increasingly effective in obstructing development plans unless their problems are adequately addressed and nuisance factors minimized.  They view the airport planning processes with skepticism, considering them to be a legal mechanism for skirting their concern. It is pertinent to note that environmental concerns have not only adversely affected aviation operations but also at times stymied its growth.  The the third runway plan for Heathrow, now officially scrapped by the government, is a glaring example of the dominance of environmental activists and protestors.
In terms of destinations served by worldwide international airports, Heathrow has fallen from second in 1990 to seventh in 2010, and the numbers of destinations that can be directly accessed from Heathrow now are 157 compared with 224 from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and 235 from Frankfurt. This shows that London’s only hub airport is losing out to other European airports, which if sustained could have long-term damaging effects for the economies of London and the UK.
Government’s judgment in the matter notwithstanding, the pros and cons of an additional runway as opposed to a brand new airport elsewhere with its cost and environmental impact, to me, still remains a matter of debate.
From purely the aviation industry’s perspective, however, having acknowledged its effect on climate change, it is turning its attention to the adverse impact of the climate change on itself – the industry – with the earnest intention of looking for a win-win situation. Admittedly, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the UN, aviation contributes about 2% of the global carbon emissions towards the environmental pollution – a small proportion as compared to the contribution from industries other than aviation.  However, this observation does not absolve the aviation industry of the responsibility to clean up its act and make a determined effort to not only contain pollution but consistently attempt to de-carbonize the world’s air transport network.  The efforts should be to consistently reduce it through the introduction of appropriate technology and human endeavour to attain “environmentally friendly aviation” – through more efficient turbofan engines, composite materials for lighter airframe structures, various aerodynamics tweaks, and development of sophisticated flight-management systems.  Fuel is one of the airlines’ biggest operational costs, so there is a strong incentive to burn less of it.  In the case of fuel economy, then, virtue really is its own reward.
In the growing international climate of environmental awareness, a great many of the world’s industries now realise that ignoring the environment is no longer an option but an indispensable necessity – and the aviation industry is certainly no exception.  Industries and governments that do not take the environment seriously will lose out, because customers are demanding cleaner products and services, the best employees prefer to work for environmentally responsible firms, financial institutions are more willing to lend to companies that prevent pollution rather than those that may have to pay large clean-up bills.  Insurance companies are more willing to cover clean companies, environmental regulations are getting tougher and the economic instruments – taxes, charges and trade permits – will reward the clean and green companies and penalise the polluters.
The aviation industry, i.e. airlines, airports and the aircraft manufacturers, are adequately sensitised to the effects of aviation on the environment.  The effect of aviation on climate change due to green house gas emissions, aircraft noise and indiscriminate use of precious energy for the operations and maintenance of the airports are the major concerns.  The ICAO Council in 2004 had launched three major initiatives to limit or reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise; the impact of aviation emissions on local air quality; and the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate. It also adopted Strategic Objectives with high priority given to environmental protection and has since then progressively developed a range of standards, policies and guidance material to address aircraft noise and engine emissions embracing technological improvements, operating procedures, proper organization of air traffic, appropriate airport land-use planning and promoting energy efficiency at airports as part of a green airport approach to improve quality and environmental sustainability.  Most of this work is undertaken through the ICAO Council’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), which consists of Members and Observers from States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations representing aviation industry and environmental interests.
As eco-friendliness moves from being a fringe benefit to a virtual necessity in today’s markets, airports are struggling with containment of the eco-problem on a massive scale.  Dramatic solutions are being sought worldwide, with airports being built offshore, such as Hong Kong and innovative measures being explored in the implementation of noise abatement procedures, in checking contamination of soil and underground water by use of special chemicals for aircraft and pavement anti-icing and de-icing, fuel spillage, airline & airport vehicles maintenance; appropriate disposal & recycling of waste and hazardous substances produced by catering, maintenance and other airline & airport operations in building  environmentally friendly airports on land.  The industry, through the ICAO, is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by half in the next 15 years–an achievable target considering that the current generation of aircraft is 42% more fuel-efficient compared to last two decades – and 50% quieter, reducing noise pollution as well.
A step towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by airlines is the implementation of Single European Sky (SES) schemes, which will allow for more efficient air traffic management (ATM) over European skies.  Once implemented, this scheme is expected to lower flight time, and eliminate 16 million tons of greenhouse gas emission a year.  In the United States, the Nextgen (Next Generation ATM – creating more direct routes), when implemented, will save 19 million tons of greenhouse gas emission per year.
Geoscientists have warned that the continued environmental degradation in all its forms of climate change, ozone depletion and et-al could spark more hazardous geological events and natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes and an increased frequency of tsunamis.
To me aviation and environment are synonymous in some ways.  For one, both are boundless.  They have no geographical boundaries – and now we are even looking commercial space travel.  Aviation’s impact, be it a system failure i.e. a temporary grounding of an aircraft type for a suspect malfunctioning in the aftermath of an accident, or human involvement, i.e. pilot error or acts of unlawful intervention against civil aviation, is not confined to a region, a nation or even a continent and has the potential to result into a systematic failure of the world air traffic network. Likewise an environmental effect such as Eyjafjallajokull – the volcano that spewed the massive ash clouds in Iceland, a natural phenomenon that spread over the continent leading to the closure of most of Europe’s airspace.  A very high proportion of flights within, to and from Europe were cancelled creating, according to IATA, the highest level of global air travel disruption since the Second World War.  A tsunami originating from Sumatra created havoc there before cutting across several countries, oceans and even continents causing large scale damage to infrastructure en-route including coastal and off-shore airports to reach the shores of Somalia.  The recent quake-tsunami-nuclear crises in Japan have caused catastrophic loss to life, degradation of the environment and major losses to the aviation industry.
Whether it is through fog-bound Asian airports, snow engulfed European facilities, or an air traffic controllers’ strike at US airports – while transportation services around the globe are disrupted by weather conditions or administrative problems, so, aviation and the environment have reciprocal influences on each other.  Their actions and reactions are not mutually exclusive.
The entire world governments’ political and administrative machineries tirelessly work overtime to secure that elusive 0.01% or thereabouts increase in their annual GDP.  Yet despite the best intentions and efforts of those leading the aviation industry, there appears to be no consensus or a universal policy frame-work that mitigates the degradation of environment at a planetary level, across all industries and domestic living.  Individual country interests and concerns largely dominate the scene.  It is like the proverbial “not seeing the wood for the trees”.  I believe that we ought to see the ‘big picture” and protect our planet Earth.  Its future is NOT FOR SALE.  As we look at the future of aircraft and airports, we should also be committed to look at the future of the planet Earth.
In his 2005 book The Weather Makers, – about climate science and global warming  – and his latest publication Here on Earth; twin biographies, of humanity and the planet, Tim Flannery, an Australian ‘environmental celebrity’ reminds us of the various ways in which humans are influencing their environment – most of them in a negative way – and asks the readers to recognize that even in an age of high technology, our prosperity and well being depend on our natural environment, which furnishes us with air, water, food and the natural resources on which industrial civilization relies.
To sum up, the aviation and environment experts collectively have to recognize that they have to work in tandem, accept that aviation and the environment have to coexist, appreciate that the Planet Earth is the First Foremost Frontier, shun the age-old myths and adopt innovative solutions, strictly adhere to the ICAO Polluter Pays Principle (PPP), evolve effective solutions despite inefficient regulations, and see ecology in technology.
Readers’ reactions to my observations shall be welcomed via indi279@gmail.com