Emissions in business aviation

It’s easy to point the finger when it comes to pollution. Activists and protesters are quick to lay the blame on the simplest of suspects, with the aviation industry bearing the brunt of it. The common public tends to accept the opinion of these purported experts, and this is somewhat understandable. The sight of a turbine-powered turbojet gliding majestically through open skies at 500 mph does lead one to assume that a fair degree of fuels is being burned into the ozone layer. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that business aviation actually accounts for a minuscule percentage of pollution on a global scale.

Business aviation is simply an offset of global aviation and refers to planes, helicopters and other aircraft that assist in the implementation of business and travel. This broad definition encompasses a lot of aircraft and so it may seem logical to assume that business aviation emissions significantly damage the environment, but this is not necessarily true. According to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) 2014 Fact Book, business aviation only accounts for a “tiny fraction of all transport emissions”.

Emissions - Business Aviaton vs Airlines

“Although business aviation has a tiny carbon footprint, the industry is committed to further minimizing its impact on climate change.” Picture Source.

In the US, business aviation accounts for a lowly 0.6% of transport carbon emissions. In terms of worldwide greenhouses gases, this statistic reduces even further to an extraordinarily low 0.2%. These numbers seem impressively tiny, so just how are emissions kept so low in the world of aviation?

Despite many people’s view of the aviation business, it is actually an industry which takes its duty to the environment very seriously. There are a huge number of highly skilled, creative and intelligent designers involved in the process of manufacturing aircraft and this is part of the reason that modern planes are able to emit such low levels of pollutants. Take, for example, the winglets engineered for aircraft. By optimizing the design to maximize the flight range, the aircraft not only operates more efficiently but also burns its fuels at a reduced rate. This improves the flight experience and also ensures that emissions are as low as possible across many general and commercial aircraft.

This is merely one example of what is an ongoing effort to improve on what we already have at our disposal. A comparison of modern general aviation turbine engines with those of 1976 show a 30% increase in efficiency. Travel back a decade earlier and that jumps to a 50% increase. This is no overnight development; the aviation industry has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to bettering the environment.

NBAA tackling environmental issues

Critics may suggest that these improved ecological outcomes are merely the by-product of new designs and not the focus itself. Delve deeper and you’ll find evidence to the contrary. Some years ago members of the NBAA began investing in reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM), effectively doubling the airspace capacity – and all at the cost of the members themselves.

Not content with this, the NBAA has also joined forces with a number of bodies that aim to tackle vital environmental issues. The Noise Abatement Program (NAP) has enjoyed strong ties with the NBAA dating back as far as the 1960s, indicating the longevity of their awareness. Via government initiatives and workgroups, the two have combined to improve on fuel efficiency and to brainstorm ways in which to help protect the environment.

But that’s not all. The NBAA is also allied with the International Civil Aviation Organization Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (ICAO CAEP) and International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) challenging similar issues in the industry. They have even brought in external stakeholders via the Environmental Issues (EI) Focus Group, spreading awareness from the ground up.

Looking to the future, there are already a significant number of developments underway that have the potential to limit any damage to the environment on a long-term scale. Those already familiar with NextGen technology will be aware of its positive potential; aviation emissions could be reduced by 12% as soon as 2025 by utilizing the satellite technology that is in development.

Any elementary school student will tell you of the dangers of relying on fossil fuels and the impact it is having on the world, and this is not an area that is being neglected in aviation. Ongoing research continues to find new breakthroughs as scientists search for alternative fueling methods. Given the size and power of the machines, this is no overnight fix, but the invention of aircraft able to run entirely on renewable solar energy is no longer a dream but a fast-moving reality. Some experts have even speculated this technology could one day be implemented on regular, commercial airplanes. The industry has announced its ambition to reduce GHG emissions and by 2050 want a “CO2 life-cycle reduction of 40 percent (in absolute terms) from biofuels”. Impressive stuff.

Because of the massive scale of aviation and the power most aircraft project, it is easy to see why the industry has acquired the big, bad wolf label. Yet it is unwarranted. It is difficult to think of another sector which produces such a tiny percentage of overall pollution yet is so adamantly dedicated to eradicating what it can. This is evidenced not just via the NBAA and its links but also independent companies that focus purely on helping to reduce emissions. Terra Pass is a company that specializes in honing in on companies’ carbon footprints and discussing ways in which this may be reduced. Using a simple online calculator, statistics can be worked out in minutes and a plan put into action, from “cost-effective carbon offsets and RECs to developing a comprehensive renewable energy plan”.

From current statistics to long-term ambitions, it is clear that the business aviation sector takes emissions and the environment very seriously. Despite a minuscule proportion of pollution various bodies have showcased a firm commitment to improving technology to reduce the damage it causes. Despite only representing 0.6% of transport carbon emissions, if development continues as it has done, we can expect this small percentage to become even smaller in the coming years.