The air transport industry has been ahead of the decarbonization curve for several years, committing to halve its CO2 emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement, and even achieve carbon-neutrality for intra-European flights.1 But with air transport accounting for 2.1% of all human CO2 emissions globally and 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources,2 achieving these goals can be a monumental effort. A holistic approach across the entirety of the air transport value chain and ecosystem will likely be needed.
To help achieve decarbonization targets, there will likely need to be structural evolution on both aircraft and propulsion technology. Some of the key levers in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions include:
The optimization of airlines’ operations and maintenance could also have a significant impact on aircraft CO2 emissions. Some of these actions could include:
Decarbonizing the value chain
Aircraft production and maintenance operations value chains emitted approximately 40 megatons of CO2 in 2021.12 Even if modest in comparison with flight emissions (about 4% to 5% of the total), some decarbonization avenues can be activated, such as:
Taking a holistic approach
Moving forward on these efforts and initiatives in a compartmentalized fashion or by limiting them to specific players or value chain stages may only end up in failure. In fact, achieving the decarbonization ambitions of the airline industry will likely need to reach beyond aircraft operations and production. Substantial results will likely require well-coordinated ecosystems that involve not only aircraft manufacturers, airlines, MRO players, and airports but also power and gas utilities, public authorities, or even ground mobility operators.
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