What Is Aviation’s Place In A Sustainable Future?

For aviation to prove that it has a part to play in a sustainable, post-carbon world, it will require long-term perspective investments. Furthermore, to reduce its impact on global warming – and secure its own survival – the industry will need to collaborate with external stakeholders, working from a place of a shared narrative.

Aviation Sustainability
Aviation as a whole needs to prove it has a role to play in a decarbonized world order. Photo: London Stansted

GDP vs. pollution

Aviation may not be as big a CO2 emitter as the food production or fashion industries. Still, it has become the high-profile poster-child for pollution. It has been convenient for governments to place some responsibility for climate change on air travel and individual habits rather than regulate more politically sensitive industries, such as factory-scale livestock farming.

That is not to say that aviation does not need to do its part in reducing CO2 emissions and contribute to the slowing down of global warming. Despite the COVID-bump in the road, commercial aviation is expected to grow roughly 4.3% per annum over the next 20 years.

If this is achieved, by 2040, aviation will contribute 15.5 million in direct jobs and $1.5 trillion of GDP to the world economy. And that is not even taking into account the indirect employment and revenue stemming from global tourism. However, needless to say, for there to be any air travel, there must also be inhabitable places to travel between.

What Is Aviation’s Place In A Sustainable Future?
Extreme weather and large fires are becoming increasingly common, causing disruption to commercial aviation. Photo: Getty Images

A question of survival

As such, transitioning to a post-carbon regime is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint. It also makes perfect business sense. Extreme weather is causing disruption to air travel on a larger and larger scale, with great costs incurred by airlines and airports as a result. Furthermore, invisible clear-air extreme turbulence is calculated to become three times more common by 2050.

Younger generations are becoming increasingly aware of their own carbon footprint. They are demanding more from companies in terms of stepping up for the environment and future life on earth. Additionally, for aviation to avoid heavy taxation in the short run and loss of business, in the long run, it needs to prove that it indeed has a place in a sustainable future. To that end, it must make investments that may seem uncomfortable for the time being.

Boeing 737 Sunset Getty
Aviation needs to collaborate beyond its own industry stakeholders for environmental solutions. Photo: Getty Images

Part of the solutions will come from outside

Everyone needs to do their part – and it needs to go beyond just waiting for aircraft manufacturers to deliver the next best-promise lower emission aircraft. Aviation will need to widen its scope and collaborate with stakeholders outside the industry in order to achieve long-term sustainability goals.

During Aviation Week’s webinar The Road to Zero Carbon Airports on Thursday, Julianna Scavuzzi, senior director for sustainability, environmental protection and legal affairs at Airports Council International (ACI), stated that,

“We need to go beyond the collaboration that we were used to doing and include non-aviation stakeholders because part of the solutions will come from external stakeholders. The pandemic has, I think, taught us that we will need more than just our own sector.” 

While pioneers in technology such as Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), infrastructure for electric flight, or green hydrogen may end up paying more than those who follow, these are still investments the industry cannot afford not to make.