Aviation is getting something of a bad rap right now in terms of environmental impact. Despite being responsible for less than 2% of global CO2 emissions, the world is looking to airlines to set an example and drive down associated pollution.
And a great deal is being done already. Since 2005, the UK’s airlines alone have introduced £35bn worth of new aircraft to the skies, all of which are far more fuel-efficient than their predecessors. In fact, ATAG says all aircraft in service today are 80% more efficient than those that flew 50 years ago. Even small changes like adding winglets are making a huge contribution, driving down CO2 emissions by an estimated 80 million tons.
Vice President of Inmarsat Aviation, Dominic Walters, told us how connectivity is increasing the opportunities for further reductions in aviation-related CO2 emissions. He said,
“Iris, and more broadly air traffic management, have the potential to lead to the better positioning of aircraft and therefore fuel efficiency.”
Iris is an Inmarsat initiative under development that aims to provide the capabilities to manage air traffic in four dimensions. This is just one of Inmarsat’s connectivity innovations that will help improve efficiency in the future.
How connectivity can drive down CO2
Having connected aircraft in the skies will enable better air traffic management. IATA recently noted that at least a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions could be achieved in Europe alone, just by more effective policing of airspace. Walters explained,
“One of the key benefits of operational connectivity is that it not only enables aircraft to fly slightly closer together, but it helps airlines optimize routes by flying more directly and cruise at optimum altitudes. This flight profile optimization reduces fuel burn and emissions and can dramatically impact the need for holding patterns.”
Anyone who’s ever flown into Heathrow will be painfully aware of the frustrating stacking process that is often required before being cleared to land. And it’s not just Heathrow that this happens at. All over the world, airports are becoming more congested, and without any better traffic management facility in place, these pointless journeys in circles are only going to get worse.
“There’s a lot of fuel consumption involved in aircraft flying around busy hubs. Having more aircraft with connected flight decks enables much more effective and efficient routing. This means it actually has a carbon reduction benefit,” Walters explained.
A $15bn saving
It’s not just CO2 savings that are on the table either. As Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr recently noted, airlines do not need to be woken up to fuel savings. Fuel accounts for around 25% of an airline’s running costs, so anything they can do to drive down this expense will be a welcome adjustment.
Walters talked to us about Inmarsat’s research, conducted in partnership with the London School of Economics. In the research, it was estimated that satellite communications had already, over the past 15 years, saved the aviation industry more than $3bn. However, the future looks even brighter. Walters explained,
“Connectivity, specifically around operational efficiency, can actually reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Our research with the London School of Economics actually found a $15 billion saving for the aviation industry by 2035 thanks to connected operations.”
As more aircraft become connected and worldwide networks become faster and more reliable, it’s clear that aviation’s fight against climate change will become a whole lot easier as a result.