Having spent 24 hours flying from Southampton to Perth last week, it got me thinking as to the impact my travel and air travel, in general, is having on the environment.

Air transport is currently responsible for about 1.3% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It doesn’t sound like much but air travel is doubled almost every 15 years since the 1970s, and with a rise in passenger numbers comes a rise in the number of flights and emissions.


Passenger numbers are predicted to double numerous times through the coming decades


My flight from Southampton to Perth via Kuala Lumpur has an approximate carbon footprint of 1.156 tonnes calculated using the Carbon Footprint Calculator. It’s a long journey so it’s understandable why that figure is very high. What is great is that the link above gives you options to offset the emissions from your flight by helping to fund environmental projects around the world based on the price of a tonne of carbon emissions.

Like any industry around the world, the aviation industry is looking for new ways to become more efficient and reduce emissions from the tens of thousands of flights that take off every single day. Here are 4 ways that the aviation is becoming more sustainable!

Engine Efficiency

With each new model of passenger planes and each new engine upgrade, planes are becoming more and more efficient with the fuel it uses. Engine efficiency has always moved forward with every new engine released by any of the major airline engine manufacturers, with most looking to phase out many of the older and less efficient engines sooner rather than later.

Airlines are also looking at ways to improve the efficeincy of fuel use before, during and after the flight, including changing landing profiles and reducing the weight of planes. For them it’s a win win; the more efficiently their planes use fuel, the less they need to use and therefore the more money they save.

Alternative Fuels

The aviation is looking into the possibility of alternative fuels powering planes and the ground service vehicles used in airports. Renewables like solar are being considered and have already powered an aircraft to fly around the world without the need of fuel! Admittedly it will be a long time before the largest passenger planes of today get anywhere close to that capability!

The Solar Impulse Plane that completed a round the world trip with no need for fuel

Biofuels is also being considered as it would small adaptations of the engines in current comissioned planes. By using biofuels in planes, and many ground vehicles, emissions would reduce massively compared to current fuels!

Unfortunately, there is a pretty big downside to biofuels as an alternative fuel. The growth of palm oil, which can be used in vehicles as fuel, has had devastating impacts on rainforests and the natural environment as a number of developing countries look to cash in on the crop. Palm oil can be grown sustainably and there are a number of NGOs that are attempting to educate on sustainable practices but unsustainable growth is expanding quicker than sustainable growth.

Qantas is an international airline based in Australia that is looking at ways to power their planes with sustainably-sourced biofuels and building new electric ground vehicles to take the place of the current diesel vehicles.

Carbon Offsetting

Something that many industries and companies to is offset their carbon emissions. Offsetting emissions usually involves carrying out an action or investing in something that will remove the same out of greenhouse gas emissions that are put into the atmosphere from an action.

As I’ve already said, it is possible for individual passengers to offset their own carbon footprint from flights. But what are airlines doing to offset their own carbon emissions?

Going back to Qantas, they have a number of initiatives aimed to offset carbon emissions from their planes. Initiatives like Carbon Neutral Kangaroo Island and Conserving Tasmania’s Wilderness are all designed to maintain or add to the natural and ecologically important areas in Australia and surrounding countries.

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One example taken from Qantasfutureplanet.com.au

Carbon Neutral Airports

There are now two airports in the world that have achieved the highest rating of ‘Airport Carbon Accreditation’. Geneva Airport in Switzerland and Galápagos Ecological Airport have have both now achieved this status, with 39 other airports having at least the lowest level of accredation in carbon neutrality.

Galápagos Ecological airport is the most recent to join this ambitious group, running entirely on renewable energy. 35% of the energy required is produced from photovoltaic solar cells with the rest coming from windmills in and around the airport. Although it’s only a small airport, it is another example of what is possible. If a small island group off the coast of Ecuador can do it, so can everyone else!


Galapagos Airport


Flying More Sustainably

Airlines and the aviation industry are recognising the role they need to fill to become more sustainable. Passenger numbers are expected to grow and grow over the coming decades but the climate is getting to a point where more emissions could lead to disaster. Airlines must adapt and they must adapt quickly!

As someone who enjoys travel and seeing the world, this is far from a call to avoid air travel- in fact, I’d still encourage it as seeing and travelling the world is one of the greatest things you can do! But it’s time that we did consider ways in which we can do it much more sustainably. Offsetting is a great way of countering emissions from travel and it’s relatively inexpensive, even if you’re flying to the other side of the world!

So next time you fly, consider what you can do to offset the impact of your travel.


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