Wednesday, 9 December 2009

IATA talks up technofixes

James Lamont reports in the Times that IATA (the International Air Transport Association) continues its opposition to aviation’s inclusion in the European Union European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which imposes carbon emission quotas but allows businesses to trade carbon permits as an alternative to reducing emissions. The aviation industry is scheduled to be finally hauled into the ETS in 2012, whilst other industry sectors have been included since 2005, but Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of IATA, is arguing for continued favourable treatment from governments, with exemption from the responsibilities of other industries.

Bisignani claims that instead of incentivising aviation to reduce emissions, including aviation in the ETS will hinder the industry’s progress in adopting greener technology, in particular investment in more fuel efficient aircraft. IATA claims that each generation of aircraft increases fuel efficiency by 15 per cent. Stephan Gosling and Paul Upham, writing in the book Aviation and Climate Change, make a more realistic and scientifically based assessment of annual fuel efficiency improvements of between just 1 and 1.5 per cent per year. The argument that aviation can maintain its growth trends whilst reducing GHG emissions relies on theoretical technofixes. IATA has pledged to cut carbon emissions by half by 2050, from 2005 levels. With a realistic projection of technological advancement, it is not possible to reduce aviation’s GHG emissions whilst maintaining its position as one of the world’s fastest growing industries. The aviation industry looks to Boeing’s forecasts for future growth, and in June 2009 Boeing made a still-robust forecast of passenger traffic growth of 4.9 per cent per year, a minimal reduction of the 5 per cent growth rate average over the last 30 years.

Even with the economic downturn beginning in autumn 2008, and some airlines reporting major losses, the big picture is that airlines are still ordering plenty of old style planes (as opposed to the dramatically more fuel efficient planes which have not been invented yet) from the Boeing / Airbus duopoly supplying the vast majority of the world’s aircraft. In 2008, Airbus delivered a record 482 aircraft, and received orders for 900, its third highest annual total. Boeing ended 2008 with 662 commercial plane orders. The skies will be crowded with models which have been flying around for ages, like Boeing 747s, 767s 737s and 777s, and Airbus 320s, 330s and 340s, albeit newer models with marginal fuel efficiency improvements. Both aircraft manufacturers have a considerable order backlog which is helping them through the recession. Earlier this year Boeing announced that it had a backlog of more than 3,700 planes, with Airbus reporting a record order backlog of 3,715 planes. Boeing’s 787, or Dreamliner, also called the Greenliner as Boeing claims it will be 20 per cent more fuel efficient than similar sized planes, was supposed to take to the skies in autumn 2007, but its manufacture has been so plagued with delays it is sometimes referred to as the ‘7 late 7’.

Bisignani claims that the adoption of biofuels could reduce aviation’s carbon emissions by as much as 80 per cent. This wildly optimistic claim counters a recent report commissioned by the US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) and undertaken by Rand, Near-Term Feasibility of Alternative Jet Fuels. This report concluded that many of the alternative aviation fuels which are being developed are likely to have higher GHGs than conventional jet fuel when produced on a commercial scale. The fossil fuel based alternatives, derived from coal and oil shale, have a worse energy balance (energy outputs compared to the energy used to produce the fuel) than conventional jet fuel as the material is more difficult to extract and requires more processing. Regarding biofuels, the GHG emissions from land use changes for biofuel crops is highlighted, which increases the emissions dramatically. Previous claims for lower levels of GHG emissions from biofuels have excluded both the direct land-use change of growing biofuels, such as deforestation and uprooting grasslands to plant biofuel crops, and indirect land use changes when land used for food crops is used for biofuel crops, leading to land somewhere else being converted to agriculture to replace the displaced food crops.

Finally, Mr Bisignani criticises the UK’s increase in Air Passenger Duty, claiming it helps bail out the banks rather than helping the environment. This conveniently overlooks aviation industry stimulus packages (i.e. bailouts) from governments all over the world. In the UK, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson announced a £340m loan to support the manufacturing of Airbus A350 wings in Bristol in August 2009. Bailout packages have been approved, or are imminent, for several flag carriers including Air India, Japan Airlines and for several Chinese airlines, and Boeing highlights the Chinese government’s stimulus package in its high growth predictions for the country. Singapore introduced a relief package for the Changi Airfreight Centre. In the US, $1.1 billion has been doled out by the FAA, approved by the Obama administration, to several airports, about $100 million of which did not meet the grant criteria.

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