Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Planes of the Future!

Sorry Alix, but paralleling your title was too tempting.

The aircraft industry emits just 2% of worldwide CO2 according to the IPCC, but that doesn't mean they don't want to cut back. Aircraft industry leaders from around the world are meeting right now in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss their plan of action as they strive to decrease their carbon footprint and eventually become carbon free. Representation includes the President/CEOs of both Boeing and Airbus, the Director/CEO of the International Air Transport Association, and the President/CEO of GE Aviation; definitely some powerful voices (links to some speeches here). There is even an "Aviation Industry Commitment to Action on Climate Change," endorsed by several aviation industry partners including the Austin Dept. of Aviation and Austin-Bergstrom Airport. Disappointing, however, is the lack of support by U.S. airlines.

At face value, this is very good to see. The rhetoric in the climate change declaration resembles oil executives' Congressional testimony in favor of carbon regulations, and it is good to see some level of industry responsibility for and acknowledgment of the climate problems we face.

Of course, with aircraft industry profits being slashed by high fuel prices, these companies and organizations have a strong incentive to support fuel efficiency gains and investigation into alternative fuels. Indeed, a good deal of the emphasis at the Geneva meeting seems to be on efficiency, not only in aircraft technology, but also in air traffic control and efficient management of planes that are already in use. Boeing CEO Scott Carson remarks "Even the most fuel-efficient airplane can’t achieve its highest efficiency levels if it is forced to fly indirect routes and to circle overhead waiting to land." Carson also mentions the pioneering Dreamliner aircraft, biofuels (under the loaded but carefully chosen jargon "sustainable" fuels), and the recent test flight of a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft.

In the end though, I still get the impression that it will take strong policy measures to see substantial emissions reductions even in the aircraft industry, and I don't in any way feel that the aircraft industry represents the "low-hanging fruit" when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. I applaud the gusto of the industry, but we've got bigger fish to fry (ground transportation and power generation, I'm looking at you).

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