There is more and more talk about flying being unsustainable, and whether it can ever be sustainable or green. Such headlines can make people really concerned about flying, and wonder whether it’s possible to travel in a sustainable way. Here is a breakdown of the situation as it stands right now to try to clear things up.
What Is the Real Impact?
There are more and more people that fly each day, that’s the reality. The aviation industry itself is the cause of 2% of all the global carbon emissions. The number of passengers is just going up and up, to the point that it is expected to double in 20 years. Some studies claim that environmentally friendly flying is possible, but others say that it’s just an illusion. Most articles finish by concluding that flying is best avoided completely.
There are lots of carbon emissions associated with flying. FlyGRN is a great tool to calculate the carbon emissions of a flight. So, we know that it’s bad, but if we can’t avoid flying altogether, how can we manage it?
Alternatives Aren’t Realistic
In reality, there’s no real alternative to flying or air travel. In certain areas, it’s possible to travel by train, especially in Europe. However, driving has about the same impact as flying. And in many cases, the destination you want to go to simply has to be reached through flying.
Moving Past Fuel Flying
Planes are more and more efficient each day, but that can’t keep up with aviation. There are new technologies being explored to move beyond flying, the most common of which that are brought up are electric flying and flying on hydrogen. For the time being, we know that flying on hydrogen isn’t possible, because it would take up just too much space entirely. In terms of electric aircraft, they do exist already, but they’re only enough space on them for a handful of people. Furthermore, they can only fly very short distances.
As per George Harris, a business writer at Academized and State of Writing, “it's possible that electric flying will be a reality on a true commercial scale in the future, but it will most likely take a long time to get there. Instead, we can explore other fuels like biofuels to consider green flying.”
Biofuels Are Pricey
The aviation industry has been exploring the likelihood of reducing their carbon emissions by using biofuels instead of the current fossil fuels. Biofuels come from plant oils and in theory have a much lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels. The problem with this, though, is that the cultivation of the crops to make that fuel is not sustainable in itself, because the processing actually has higher emissions. It also takes up a lot of the land that’s meant to be for food production.
It's possible to explore biofuels that don’t come from food crops, like jatropha and algae. Test flights have run on these two biofuels and showed researchers that mixing these biofuels burned less gas and did not have a negative effect on the plane engines themselves. Unfortunately, the production cost is much higher than fossil fuels, so a more cost-effective method of production needs to be developed.
Are Customers Willing to Pay More?
Customers have to ask themselves if they can reduce their own carbon footprint and take responsibility for their environmental impact. There are a lot of small environmental measures people can take, but it’s hard to compensate for flight emissions. What’s crucial is to stop eating meat, and also look into a carbon compensation service, such as through FlyGRN.
Exploring Greener Planes
The good news is the current planes can fly on biofuels, but the aviation industry will need to look into developing greener electric planes in the future. Kyle Rodgers, an analyst at Australian Help and Paper Fellows, says that “this matters for everything from the fuel consumed to the contrails of planes. Instead, it may be more critical to review and optimize plane routes.”
Working With What We Have
For the meantime, we should work with what we have. That means increasing the efficiency of the current airplane engines to make them more fuel efficient, increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of the planes, and reducing their structural weight. That’s what companies are exploring now.
About the writer:
Ellie Coverdale is a marketing writer for UK Writings and Boom Essays. She writes about environmentally friendly initiatives and how businesses and industries can reduce their carbon footprint. In her spare time, she travels to a lot of different locations while avoiding flying, and teaches writing tips for Essayroo.