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Taking aviation out of the emission equation

Aviation has created a truly global network connecting people and goods. We currently record around 3.5bn trips per year – a figure that could double within the next two decades. Whilst this success story brings enormous social and economic benefits to Europe, it is obvious that air traffic has to become much more sustainable.

Europe leads with ambitious targets

Research on biofuel from algae

Aviation has an impressive track record in reducing emissions: aircraft in service today are over 70 per cent more fuel-efficient per passenger kilometre than a jet aircraft in 1970. However, these efficiency gains are outweighed by high growth rates in international air traffic.

To overcome this challenge, in 2008 airlines, airports and aircraft manufacturers signed an ambitious commitment: from 2020, the industry wants to achieve carbon-neutral growth. By 2050, it intends to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent, compared to 2005. Further goals are a 90 per cent decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 65 per cent decrease in noise emissions. No other industry sector has formulated such far-reaching climate targets.

Continue to strengthen cooperation

How can these targets be achieved? Firstly, one needs a solid roadmap: Flightpath 2050 was developed in 2011 by Europe’s leading experts in the field under the auspices of the European Commission. It identified the areas where significant emission reductions could be achieved while strengthening the competitiveness of the European aerospace industry.

Reaching the goals set in the Flightpath 2050 roadmap is essentially based on three pillars: new aircraft technology, modernised air traffic management to maximise efficient use of airspace and more sustainable aviation fuels.

Secondly, Europe recognised the need to step up aeronautical research to bring the kind of innovations to market that will make a real difference. Hence Europe’s joint technology initiative Clean Sky was strengthened and provided with adequate resources on top of private and national programs. It is now important to ensure continuous funding for the next Clean Sky initiative. 

Cutting emissions through technology

Airbus is fully behind these targets, and has made great strides in recent years in reducing emissions. Our latest models, the state-of-the-art long-haul aircraft A350 XWB and the best-selling single-aisle A320neo, reduce emissions by up to 25 per cent compared to the models they replace. First delivered in 2014 and 2016 respectively, they are playing a crucial role in the renewal of airlines’ fleets around the world.

Furthermore, a series of lab flights has shown that it is already possible today to reduce the CO2 emissions of a flight by 50 per cent by combining existing technologies. These include the latest aircraft models, sustainable biokerosene and advanced air traffic management.

Airbus keeps self-funding research in the range of 3bn€ a year of which 90 per cent is targeted to reduce the environmental footprint of an aircraft.

Disruptive technology

We are continuously working on new innovations that bring down emissions further, such as 3D printing, laminated wings, hybrid and electrical aircraft as well as sustainable alternative fuels derived from algae. Crucially, development cycles have accelerated so that we can now introduce innovations in our aircraft models faster than ever before.

A step to further to facilitate the development of incremental aviation technologies, such as electrical flying, is to include them into the upcoming European Clean Sky 3 project. European stakeholders need to maintain excellence, which can only be achieved in collaborative effort.

It will take a few more decades before our vision will become a reality. But every innovation gets us closer to our ultimate goal: carbon-neutral flying, available for everyone.



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