Business Aviation & the Environment

 - August 26, 2009, 11:00 AM


Government, industry look to curb CO2 emissions

In testimony before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in the spring of last year, the FAA’s top environmental official challenged a congressional perception that the agency’s efforts to reduce so-called greenhouse gas emissions were “tangential” to other objectives.

Daniel Elwell, who was then assistant administrator for the FAA office of aviation policy, planning and environment, emphasized that the agency had a five-pronged plan to tackle aviation emissions and other environmental issues, including noise impact, air and water quality, global climate change and new energy sources.

Fast forward to this past June, when the House of Representatives passed the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” by a margin of 219 to 212. The measure, H.R.2454, also known as Aces, mandates an economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions cap 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, 42 percent below by 2030 and 83 percent below by 2050.

But shortly before passage, the House removed from the act a provision that would have set carbon emissions standards for new aircraft and new aircraft engines. Nevertheless, business aviation advocates remain worried about the law’s impact on their operations.

H.R.2454, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would create a “cap-and-trade” system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It would also require oil companies to buy credits for emissions caused by refining the oil into fuels, which undoubtedly would be passed on to the end users.

Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had expected to begin hearings on its climate-change legislation in July. The bill has not yet been introduced.

NBAA points out that the 1,200-plus-page House bill does not explain the cost of the legislation to the industry, reinvest funds raised into aviation infrastructure or reflect industry principles set forth earlier this year.

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) expressed concern that the climate change legislation has not had enough time to be vetted to ensure that certain provisions “won’t negatively affect our fragile economy.”

In February, 19 aviation associations–including NBAA, NATA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and the Helicopter Association International (HAI)–issued a paper contending that aviation has worked on limiting emissions associated with climate change for decades.

“Because of our aggressive pursuit of greater fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation constitute only a very small part of total U.S. GHGs, less than 3 percent,” the coalition stressed. “Over the past four decades, we have improved aircraft fuel efficiency by more than 70 percent, resulting in tremendous GHG savings.”

In addition to NBAA, NATA, GAMA and HAI, the aviation associations signing on as aviation stakeholders were the Air Transport Association and the International Air Transport Association, the Regional Airline Association, the Air Carrier Association of America, Cargo Airline Association, AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association, the National Air Carrier Association, the Airports Consultants Council, the Airports Council International and the American Association of Airport Executives, the National Association of State Aviation Officials, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Air Traffic Control Association, and the Air Line Pilots Association.

“Given the significance of fuel costs to the economic viability of our industry, our economic and environmental goals converge,” the 19 associations wrote. “Nonetheless, we also recognize that we have an obligation to further limit aviation’s greenhouse gas footprint even as aviation grows to meet rising demand for transportation around the world.”

The six greenhouse gases recognized under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorcarbons. H.R.2454 adds nitrogen trifluoride.

Aces is intended to limit emissions of gases that contribute to global warming and create a market for trading pollution allowances. Under a cap-and-trade program, businesses would buy and sell permits conferring the right to emit certain amounts of GHG. The price of these permits would be determined by demand and availability in the marketplace.

The bill defines an allowance as a limited authorization by the government to emit the equivalent of one metric ton (2,200 pounds) of carbon dioxide.

While aviation is not now a covered industry under the House clean air legislation, HAI said aviation experts in Washington have calculated that the cost to the industry could be $20 per ton of CO2 if aviation becomes a covered producer. The American Petroleum Institute estimates the bill would increase the cost of jet-A by 83 cents per gallon.

Department of Energy data shows that one gallon of av-gas produces approximately 18.4 pounds of CO2 when burned, while jet-A releases 21.1 pounds. Automotive gasoline emits about 19.4 pounds per gallon.

An Impossible Task?

Even though aviation is currently excluded from the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” some are alarmed about how seriously the law could eventually affect business aviation. Conklin & de Decker president and co-founder Bill de Decker has estimated business aircraft emissions out to 2050 using forecasts and 1-percent fuel-efficiency gain per year driven by technology advances.

Using his company’s new CO2 calculator, de Decker has estimated that in 2012, U.S. business aviation’s emissions will be 15 million tons, while the allowable limit will be about 11 million tons. By 2020, emissions should total 19.5 million tons while the allowable limit will be about 9 million tons. In 2030, it will be 33.6 million tons versus 6.6 million tons and in 2050, 33.3 million versus 1.9 million tons.

“To meet the 2050 target will require an improvement in efficiency for the fleet of 8 percent for each year of the next 40 years if we keep on using jet-A and the fleet grows as forecast,” de Decker told AIN. “That is three to four times the average annual improvement in efficiency we have actually experienced between 1965 and today,” he said, calling that scale of improvement a near impossibility.

 “Achieving the target is almost impossible without also having a drastic reduction in growth of the fleet, extensive use of biofuels and extensive purchases of CO2 offsets,” he contends.

De Decker notes that the jury is still out on whether biofuels are really as carbon neutral as claimed, with some articles postulating that ethanol is far from carbon neutral. “In either case,” de Decker predicts, “we are looking at serious constraints on growth and substantial increases in cost.”

And, “when you start looking into the science of global warming, you’ll find gaping holes, inconsistencies and contradictions,” he continued. “Worse, all the cap-and-trade schemes that the EU and perhaps the U.S. will put in place will hardly make a dent in the total CO2 content of the atmosphere and will probably be completely canceled out by the fact that China, India, Brazil and Russia have shown no interest in signing onto any CO2 reduction schemes,” de Decker concluded.

NBAA is closely watching the EPA’s move to set emissions standards for turbine engines based on the Clean Air Act. It would be a major policy shift since the FAA has traditionally set turbine engine standards–and only for nitrous oxides and smoke, not carbon dioxide, which is what the EPA is proposing.

AOPA submitted comments to the EPA in the past regarding a ruling that could lead to regulating greenhouse gas emissions from many sources, including aircraft, under the Clean Air Act, and reminded the agency in June that piston GA aircraft are not significant contributors to carbon dioxide emissions.

Emissions criteria currently exist for turbine aircraft, but not piston-powered aircraft, which account for only 0.1 percent of transportation greenhouse gas emissions. H.R.2454 does not introduce any new authority for setting emissions standards that would apply to piston-powered GA aircraft, although it would give the EPA administrator the authority to establish provisions for averaging, banking and trading of GHG emissions credits.

According to GAMA president Pete Bunce, GA also is threatened by the need to switch to an environmentally friendly fuel. The EPA has decreed that either GA come up with a timetable to phase out 100LL, or the agency will dictate a fuel solution for the industry.

“You would think it is an easy solution; it’s not,” he said at EAA AirVenture. But after 20 years of work, the answer has yet to be found. “The answer is either 94 octane unleaded, or it is synthetic fuel,” he added. “It is not ethanol.”

GAMA has noted that general aviation’s 224,000 U.S.-registered airplanes, which make up 60 percent of the world’s GA fleet, account for approximately 0.6 percent of the GHG emissions from the U.S. transportation sector and less than 0.2 percent of total global GHG.

Europe’s Progress on ETS

While Congress wrangles over greenhouse gases, the European Union, which includes aviation in its new emissions trading scheme (ETS), continues to unilaterally implement its version of a carbon emission cap-and-trade program. It will affect all flights conducted to, from or between EU airports in an aircraft with an mtow greater than 5,700 kilograms (12,566 pounds).

But the UK, which will be the administering state for most U.S. operators, announced in mid-July it would have to delay the August 31 deadline for aircraft operators to register for the EU’s ETS and to file a plan for the monitoring, reporting and verification of their carbon emissions. Last month the European Commission officially published the revised list of operators and the EU member states to which they have been allocated for compliance purposes. The August 22 publication date effectively moves the timetable for compliance to sometime in November.

Most non-EU nations, including the U.S., argue that climate change should be addressed through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and not by ICAO member states acting unilaterally. In June, a group of government representatives created by ICAO proposed an aggressive plan of action to address climate change and aviation, which included a significant improvement in the fuel efficiency of aircraft.

The Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) recommended a global aspirational goal of 2-percent annual improvement in fuel efficiency for the international civil aviation in-service fleet. This would represent a cumulative improvement of 13 percent in the short term (2010 to 2012), 26 percent in the medium term (2013 to 2020) and about 60 percent in the long term (2021 to 2050), from a 2005 base level.

 “I am certain that the recommendations of the GIACC, once implemented, will establish the framework that will allow ICAO to respond effectively to any future global agreement on climate change,” said Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez, president of the Council of ICAO.

ICAO said the plan takes into account the principles and provisions on common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as the principles of non-discrimination and equal and fair opportunities to develop international aviation that are contained in the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), the charter of ICAO.

To help those states requiring assistance in achieving the recommended goals, GIACC proposes a number of measures available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They encompass aircraft-related technology development, including advances in aircraft design as well as the development of “drop-in” biofuels to replace fossil-based fuels; improved air traffic management and infrastructure use; more efficient operations; economic/market-based measures; and regulatory measures.

Because of diverging views on the application of market-based measures across national borders, the GIACC recommended that the ICAO Council establish a process to expeditiously develop a framework for market-based measures in international aviation.

Overall, each state would retain the ultimate authority to choose the portfolio of measures appropriate to its circumstances, consistent with global aspirational goals, and will be encouraged to develop and file with ICAO individual action plans, for coordination and assistance if needed.

The GIACC recommended that ICAO continue to develop and update guidance to states on the adoption of the measures, including specific initiatives to assist developing countries, as well as access to financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building.

“The proposed framework is a watershed in the international policy discussions on climate change in that it will represent the first and only truly global action,” emphasized Kobeh Gonzalez.

Administration Committed to Reducing Carbon Footprint

Even if the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” fails to win approval in Congress, the Obama Administration intends to pursue measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), according to a top FAA official.

Nancy LoBue, the acting assistant administrator on aviation policy, planning and environment, says the White House is still interested in market-based action and the U.N.’s Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) has set a course of global action.

She explained that GIACC and most of its work has been focused on carbon dioxide emissions and global aspirational goals to achieve fuel efficiency, while the U.N. ICAO Council’s technical group–the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection–sets the standards for aircraft noise and the impact of all aircraft engine emissions that contribute to GHG.

At a GIACC meeting earlier this year, she added, a number of states expressed interest in having carbon-neutral growth in the near term and carbon reduction in the long term, based on a proposed 2005 baseline.

“During the Bush Administration, we never said we were against cap-and-trade or market-based measures,” said LoBue. “In fact they were very much into economic-based type measures. The argument was with the way in which the EU had done theirs, and that it was done improperly across borders. It also had some design flaws.”

The Obama Administration has not opined on the EU’s emissions trading scheme per se, she continued, but it has said the aims of the EU and the U.S. are more aligned with cap-and-trade. “We are currently working with Congress to see what might be more appropriate for us,” she revealed. “We want to see if we can work together on something we all can live with.”

The U.S. still endorses ICAO as the instrument to determine what aviation’s role should be in the reduction of GHG. But there is a difference of opinion between developed nations and developing nations, with the latter arguing that they should be able to continue to use aviation as they do now to improve their gross domestic products.

LoBue maintains that if the House climate change bill fails to make it through the Senate, the Obama Administration is still interested in market-based measures. “I think the President has made it clear that he wants to pursue that,” she said. “Independent of that, GIACC has set a course and the United States participates in those recommendations.”

While she acknowledged that the climate change bill is an important step that the White House is interested in, GIACC represents an equally important step for the international community in reducing emissions. “Regardless of what mechanism we use, I think there is a focus to get aviation to contribute to reducing its carbon footprint,” LoBue said. “I think we see a path forward. Whether it’s domestic or internationally, we are going to pursue both very hard.”

Engine makers strive to reduce emissions

While manufacturers of business jet engines are managing to continue reducing pollutant gas emissions, they are having a hard time cutting greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) while retaining

the speed business jet operators expect. Engine builders are making progress in various areas of the engines to reduce emissions directly–as in the combustor–or indirectly, by reducing the weight of components. Most companies, including Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC), Rolls-Royce and Snecma, are modifying current engines rather than investing in new engine architectures. One exception, a two-stage fan engine proposed by French start-up Price Induction, is still far from production.

P&WC sees the Falcon 7X’s PW307 as “the greenest engine in its market.” It surpasses ICAO’s CAEP 4 standards for emissions by 33 percent. Its Talon 2 combustor technology also meets Zurich 5 emission requirements for no landing fee surcharge.

The Canadian firm is working on a 10,000-pound-thrust demonstrator program. It has thus tested the next generation of Talon combustors. They are expected to reduce emissions still further by up to 50 percent for nitrous oxides (NOx) and by 35 percent for carbon monoxide. They will also achieve low unburned hydrocarbons and smoke emissions, a spokesperson told AIN.

As the P&WC spokesperson pointed out, recent progress in computational fluid dynamics, coupled with advanced fuel injector technology, has allowed rapid improvements in fuel-air mixing. Those improvements allow the homogeneity necessary to control burning temperature and reduce NOx. Also, continuous work has been done to improve cooling efficiency.

In addition, P&WC is part of wider research projects. It is studying the impact of emissions during near-ground operation in the vicinity of airports and cruise emissions at higher altitudes.

Honeywell’s Mike Bevans, senior technical sales manager for propulsion, noted that not all engines have to comply with ICAO’s CAEP standards. Small turbofans that generate less than 6,000 pounds of thrust “have much more relaxed standards,” he said. But he pledged full commitment to reducing emissions on these engines.

The FAA has launched a request for proposal for a program dubbed Cleen (for continuously lower emissions and noise). “The idea is to bring technologies to the market more quickly,” said Rob Salthouse, Honeywell’s HTF7000 product manager. Under the Cleen program, a research consortium will be created.

Cleen’s goals include demonstration of certifiable aircraft technology that reduces fuel burn by 33 percent, compared with current technology. NOx emissions (measured over a landing and takeoff cycle) should be cut by 60 percent compared with CAEP 6 standards, at a pressure ratio of 30. The reduction should be “commensurate” over the full pressure ratio range. Limited, too, should be other gaseous and particle emissions.

Improving engine efficiency is not the only way to reduce fuel burn. Another way is to make the engine lighter. Honeywell’s next generation of engines will thus have composite fan cases.

France-based engine manufacturer Snecma is looking for a business jet application for the Silvercrest, a turbofan introduced in the 10,000-pound-thrust class. Snecma claims the engine burns 15 percent less fuel than current engines. NOx emissions are expected to be 50 percent better than CAEP 6 standards.

According to program manager Laurence Finet, the company has analyzed the data from the core engine test campaign that concluded early last year. The core engine ran 80 hours, including 60 hours with combustion. “We are on target for combustion, high-pressure turbine performance, operability and dynamic behavior, including vibrations,” Finet said.

New architectures such as the geared turbofan or the open rotor are enjoying renewed interest in commercial aviation because they are more fuel efficient. But it seems unlikely that they will find their way into business aviation in the near or mid term.

Those geared turbofans designed for lower fuel burn rely on a higher bypass ratio. A challenge in business aviation is higher cruise altitudes. At 45,000 or 50,000 feet, the bypass thrust can be challenging because of the thinner air. Therefore, a business jet engine with a high bypass ratio would need a huge fan. Moreover, business aircraft generally fly faster than airliners. Therefore, the drag generated by the fan would be prohibitive.

Even P&WC officials agree, although the company is a proponent of the geared fan for larger jets. Designers rather use the propulsive thrust coming from the rest of the engine. That’s why bypass ratios are smaller for business aircraft applications.

A turbofan that is geared and has an unusually high bypass ratio for a small jet engine–at 7.6–is the Price Induction DGen380. The company has yet to find an application for its first product but claims to have gathered enough money to complete the certification program. The full engine has run 50 hours on a testbed.

The DGen380 has a thrust of 570 pounds and is targeted toward so-called personal jets, smaller than today’s very light jets. A derivative version, the DGen390, will target 740 pounds of thrust. These engines are designed to power aircraft flying at up to 240 or 280 knots, at 25,000 feet. (Brazilian start-up GP Aerospace is building its GP210 around the DGen390. See AIN, August, page 12.)

Of the open-rotor concept, a Rolls-Royce expert said, “We will never see one on a business aircraft because speed is essential to business aviation.” To keep its fuel-efficiency advantage, an open rotor should fly at a maximum Mach 0.75. This is slower than the Mach 0.8 to 0.9 speeds that are commonplace with purpose-built business jets.

The open-rotor configuration “will struggle on a business jet,” Honeywell’s Bevans confirmed to AIN. As with the geared turbofan, the performance of the open rotor would be negatively affected by higher altitudes. Moreover, an open rotor is noisier than a turbofan. If they make it to commercial aviation, open rotors are expected to improve fuel efficiency by 25 to 30 percent.

If large-diameter fans and open rotors prove unsuitable for business aircraft, contrafans might provide a solution. They are ducted turbofans with two-stage, contra-rotating fans and feature higher efficiency without an increased fan diameter.

Price Induction is considering such a contrafan. The Taor concept, based either on the DGen380 or the DGen390, could provide 720 or 900 pounds of thrust, respectively, while reducing fuel burn by 15 to 20 percent.

According to company CEO Bernard Etcheparre, a contrafan is slightly less fuel efficient but lighter than a turboprop and its propeller. It would also be more expensive than a turbofan but less expensive than a turboprop and propeller.

“We are giving ourselves another 12 to 18 months to decide whether we launch the Taor,” deputy manager Romain Cassan told AIN. Snecma, Rolls-Royce, MTU and other European firms have studied such contrafans for Airbus-size jets in a joint research project called Vital.

Industry moves ahead on biofuel development

Biofuels (bio-derived synthetic paraffinic kerosenes, as they are officially called) are progressing more quickly than expected.

The second-generation brews are superior to the first-generation ones, such as corn-based ethanol, because they do not compete with food in agriculture. Technically they are ready to be used, but on a practical level it will take some time–and financial investment–before there are significant numbers of aircraft flying on such fuels.

In June, Honeywell announced it had started ground-testing “renewable jet fuel” on its TFE731-5 (which powers business jets such as the Hawker 800 series and some Dassault Falcons) and 131-9 auxiliary power unit. In evaluating the fuel’s combustion characteristics, the company found there was no performance difference between the renewable fuel and conventional jet fuel. “Honeywell saw no degradation in engine performance or fuel consumption,” said Bob Smith, the company’s v-p for advanced technology.

The fuel was made using algae and a plant called jatropha curcas. The latter is widely seen as one of the most promising feedstocks for aviation biofuels in the short term. Their proponents claim that these second-generation sources do not interfere with food, land or water resources.

Honeywell subsidiary UOP produced the fuel. The process calls for hydrogen to be added to remove oxygen from the biological feedstock. The resulting fuel blends with petroleum-based fuel, and it meets all the critical specifications for flight, according to Honeywell.

Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney Canada has tried a “blend of biofuels and conventional jet fuels” in the PW615 turbofan, which powers the Cessna Mustang. The Canadian manufacturer is leading an Indo-Canadian, industry-university research effort “to investigate the potential use of biofuels for small and medium-size engine applications.” The consortium is considering fuels made from algae and jatropha curcas.

Research and development for aviation biofuels has been relatively modest, and arguably Boeing has taken the lead. Between February last year and January, the manufacturer conducted four flight tests on in-service aircraft, with no modifications to the engines or the fuel system.

Airlines Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand (both of them with 747-400s), Continental Airlines (737-800) and Japan Airlines (747-300) supplied aircraft. These were powered by GE, Rolls-Royce, CFM (GE-Snecma) and Pratt & Whitney engines, respectively. “We wanted all four engine makers to experiment with biofuels,” said Bill Glover, Boeing’s managing director for environmental strategy, in a press conference earlier this year.

Neither the pilots nor the engineers noticed any significant difference. In fact, the Continental crew even noted a slightly reduced fuel burn. However, none of the aircraft was in “biofuel only” mode. Only one engine was getting biofuel, and it was mixed with conventional jet-A.

In Virgin’s mix, there was 20 percent of fuel produced from babassu and coconut oil. The other three fuel mixes were, at 50 percent, made with jatropha and other vegetables–algae and camelina.

Ethanol Alternatives

There are a number of advantages to using jatropha. This small shrub, native to Central America, grows in semi-arid areas. It has become naturalized in many tropical and subtropical areas such as India and Africa. According to Boeing, it does not encroach on food cultivation.

Jatropha contains a moderately toxic oil so harvesters must take a few precautions. However, toxicity protects the plant from insects so no synthetic insecticide is needed.

Once refined, jatropha oil yields a fuel that complies with all aeronautical standards. For example, the freezing point, -69 degrees C, is even better than that of today’s jet-A.

Energy density, at 43.5 MJ (megajoules) per kilogram, is just above that of jet-A’s–43.2, meaning each pound will carry the aircraft a little farther than jet-A–consistent with what the Continental pilots were seeing on their fuel gauge. This can also be seen on the diagram below.

So is it the miracle vegetable? Some non-governmental organizations, such as Biofuelwatch in the UK and Copagen in Mali, are not convinced. They report cases, in Asia and Africa, where the cultivation of jatropha encroached on grazing lands and other areas villagers use.

Another option is camelina, which yields approximately 100 gallons of oil per year per acre, which is between a third and a quarter the yield of jatropha; exact numbers are still to be determined. However, camelina offers one distinct advantage over jatropha. “If you grow wheat, you have to let the land rest one year every three years. That year, you can grow camelina,” Glover said. Moreover, camelina stops erosion.

“In three years, we found there was more capability than expected,” Glover summarized. Both jatropha and camelina are ready now, he noted. Halophytes, which provide an oil yield of more than 1,000 gallons per year per acre, at least twice that of jatropha, will be ready “very soon.”

Algae can provide the highest yield, possibly producing twice that of halophytes. However, it could take another 10 to 15 years before algae-based fuel is commercially available. Under Pratt & Whitney Canada’s terminology, algae-based biofuels are “third generation.”

The American Society for Testing and Materials hopes to certify bio-derived synthetic paraffinic kerosenes next year. Boeing, UOP and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory are working toward a 50-percent blend ratio.

In the context of the cost of building dedicated production facilities, Glover estimates biofuels can be competitive when oil sells for $60 to $70 a barrel. Apparently this assessment is open to interpretation; an Onera expert, for example, believes biofuels can be profitable only when crude oil costs approximately $150 per barrel. The International Air Transport Association has set its members a target of having biofuels account for 10 percent of their annual 1.7- to 1.8-billion-barrel fuel consumption.

So what about the environmental bottom line–CO2 emissions saved? One of the most touted benefits of biofuels is that they come from vegetables that have absorbed CO2 while growing. But using biofuels cannot eliminate CO2 emissions. The agricultural and refining processes are not neutral. Pending further assessments, Glover estimates that using biofuels could reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent.

Response to voluntary offset growing tepid

The purchase of voluntary carbon offsets by business aviation groups has to date been a simple–and relatively inexpensive–option for those wishing to tackle climate change; in recent years, a number of organizations, manufacturers and operators have launched offset schemes. But now, with the implementation of the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) looming on the horizon and criticism about the cost of such programs, there are questions as to whether the industry will continue to support the voluntary offset market.

The reasons for launching such programs have been varied. The now insolvent Portugal-based Jet Republic, a fractional ownership and jet card company, wanted to operate carbon-neutral flights to stay ahead of EU legislation. It announced in June that it planned to offset the emissions of its Learjet 60XR fleet through Bombardier’s carbon offset program. At that time, Jet Republic founder and CEO Jonathan Breeze said, “We see that the legislative agenda is moving that way–albeit very slowly–and we think it’s a lot easier to run at 100 percent from day one.” 

Others, such as charter firm London Executive Aviation (LEA), a member of the British Business and General Aviation Association’s carbon balance scheme, acted in response to public perception about aviation. “We recognize that, quite rightly, environmental concerns are coming more and more to the fore,” said LEA chief executive Patrick Margetson-Rushmore. “Although business jets, in reality, contribute very little to carbon emissions, we do consider it important enough to respond to concerns from the government, individuals and groups.”

The British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) launched its offset program in 2007. CEO Guy Lachlan acknowledged that “the jury is still out” concerning the effectiveness of such schemes, but he said it’s important both politically and morally to minimize aviation’s effect on the environment. UK-based Eco Positive manages the BBGA’s carbon balance scheme.

Still others, such as Cardiff, Wales-based HeliLux, launched schemes in response to customer concerns. “I think there’s a perception that helicopter transport is not particularly environmentally friendly,” said a spokeswoman for HeliLux, which claims to be the only helicopter charter company to offset every hour flown, through its offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company. “All of our flights are carbon neutral, and our clients come to us because we are carbon neutral. The fact that we offer this is a selling point.”

Likewise, UK charter broker Business Air Centre also launched a carbon neutral scheme in response to customer interest. “It was becoming more and more evident that our customers were aware of our environmental impact, so we decided to do what we could,” said commercial manager James Shotton. “We offer each customer who flies the opportunity to offset the emissions of his flight. At the moment it’s voluntary, but around 25 to 30 percent of our customers have committed to offsetting all their flying for the year.” In addition, the broker and its parent company, European Skytime, offset 100 percent of their business operations through CarbonNeutral. European Skytime charters two Learjets through its Farnborough-based operating partner, Manhattan Jet Charter.

Legislation and Offsets

Despite the apparent enthusiasm among some operators and business aviation groups for carbon-neutral flights through the use of offsets, BBGA CEO Lachlan acknowledged that there has been a “reduced appetite” for such schemes in recent months, due in part to publicity surrounding the upcoming EU emissions trading scheme (ETS). (See “UK extends deadline for ETS,” AIN, August, page 1.) As Lachlan explained, many people are beginning to wonder, “What’s the point?” If the EU is going to mandate that operators reduce their emissions, why should operators–and customers–continue to pay for voluntary schemes?

One argument in favor of offset schemes is the perception that the ETS won’t actually be reducing carbon emissions by a significant amount. In the first year, the total reduction will be approximately 3 percent less than the 2004 to 2006 average, according to Bill Sneyd, CarbonNeutral’s director of advisory services. “A three-percent reduction is a drop in the ocean,” Sneyd said. “Those passengers who are concerned with climate change won’t be put off by the fact that the operator has to reduce three percent. They will still be interested in dealing with the other 97 percent.”

Furthermore, customer contributions can’t be counted as part of an operator’s compliance with ETS, even though a small portion of that compliance can be in the form of project-based credits. Carbon offset schemes are project-based: customers invest in projects, such as wind farms and the production and distribution of environmentally friendly cookers, that reduce emissions overseas to compensate for their own emission production.

Another reason the industry will continue to invest in project-based offsets, according to LEA’s Margetson-Rushmore, is a growing sense of doubt about the overall effectiveness of the ETS. “The scheme the government has put forward seems to be a taxing scheme,” he said. “How does that solve anything? ”

Carbon offsets, unlike trading schemes, can be effective in actually reducing emissions–as long as the schemes themselves are legitimate. Eco Positive, CarbonNeutral and ClimateCare all claim to provide transparencyto customers and to prove the effectiveness of their projects.

Eco Positive, the firm that manages the BBGA scheme, provides audit reports to its customers and ensures that projects are verified by either the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) or the Gold Standard, the two most stringent standards for evaluating offsets. “The credibility of the market is one of the points that always comes up,” said CEO Karl Boyce, adding that the company traces each project to ensure that the credits have been retired and the projects are actually reducing emissions. In the past, some questionable offset providers have been found guilty
of “double counting,” or selling the same project credits to numerous customers.

CarbonNeutral and ClimateCare also use the VCS and Gold Standard to verify the effectiveness of their projects. In addition, ClimateCare personalizes the offsets it provides. If an operator frequently flies into a certain country, for example, ClimateCare will develop projects in that country.

Regardless of the reasons people choose to offset their flights, one of the biggest complaints about offset schemes is the lack of consistency in pricing. A 12-month study conducted by UK-based Manchester Metropolitan University and funded by Omega, a publicly funded partnership that studies aviation and the environment, found that there were “significant differences” in the prices charged to offset flights.

Furthermore, the emissions calculations also “differed significantly,” which affected the price to offset each flight. So depending on which company an operator chooses to use, and depending on what method that offset provider uses to calculate the emissions, the cost can vary widely.

Overall, the price to offset business aviation flights is relatively small, compared with the cost of the flight itself, according to CarbonNeutral’s Sneyd. He estimates that it costs approximately 1 percent of the total cost of the flight, even less if a customer is paying for a large-cabin business jet. But he acknowledged that most operators, especially charter firms, offer customers the opportunity to choose whether or not to include it in their total fee.

Still, some companies have opted to automatically include the extra cost in their fees. In 2007, NetJets Europe announced that it would be launching a carbon offset program and charging customers for the offsets. The yearly cost to customers amounts to an additional $5,200 on average. The company’s goal is to have 100 percent of its customers flying carbon neutral by 2012; to date, that figure is 55 percent, according to a NetJets spokesman.

Other companies that have committed to flying 100-percent carbon neutral are HeliLux and Jet Republic, which plans to launch flights with its Learjet 60XR fleet next month. According to HeliLux, the company pays for the entire scheme itself. “We see it as our contribution to the environment,” she said.

In the case of Jet Republic, the cost to offset is incorporated into the pricing but subsidized by the company. “Effectively, what we’ve done is reduce our profitability to cover the cost of carbon emissions.”

So what do customers think about carbon offset initiatives?

By most accounts, the customers haven’t been as enthusiastic as the operators. The Omega study concluded that eight out of 10 passengers had heard about offsets, but didn’t realize they could reduce the impact of their flights. Furthermore, less than 10 percent were actually willing to purchase them.

Operators and offset providers seemed to confirm those conclusions: Boyce, CEO of Eco Positive, said “only a couple” of members have signed onto the BBGA scheme, and Margetson-Rushmore told AIN there has been “very little” participation in the LEA program. He added that some customers contribute to their own individual and corporate offset schemes.

But in spite of customer reactions, most people agree that offsets will continue to have a place within the aviation industry. One reason is the simple fact that the technology isn’t yet available to reduce emissions.

“I think aviation has a particular dependence on offsets because the technology is not around, and is unlikely to be around, in the short or medium term to de-carbonize the sector,” Sneyd said.

In addition, offsets are also likely to stick around due mainly to the negative publicity aviation receives from the media and environmental groups. Sneyd explained, “Aviation has been in the media spotlight. I think both airports and airlines are keen to paint as rosy a picture as possible and to take a responsible attitude. I think it could lead to an increase in the number of operators who are offering voluntary programs to their customers."

Aircraft OEMs strive for greener manufacturing

Aircraft and engine manufacturers are endeavoring to make aircraft more environmentally friendly beyond their operational lives, from inception to grave, which means making their production greener and their materials, more recyclable. This strategy calls for investing more foresight in the choice of raw materials, ridding the factory of a lot of chemicals and creating new dismantling processes.

Among the most dangerous materials are those qualified as mutagenic, carcinogenic or reprotoxic (toxic for reproduction). They are a particular focus in Europe under the Reach (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances) directive, which took effect in 2007. Dassault, for example, has to take Reach into account in Falcon production. The directive also applies to non-Europe-based companies. Honeywell has trained all its engineers for Reach. “The responsibility of demonstrating the safety of chemicals is on us if we bring chemicals to Europe,” Mike Bevans, senior technical sales manager for Honeywell’s engines, told AIN.

There are a number of environmental criteria to consider when selecting new materials. “These include weight saving, whether they come from renewable resources, recyclability and the cost and pollution associated with their production,” said Bruno Stoufflet, Dassault’s v-p for scientific strategy, R&D and advanced business.

Making an airframe more environmentally friendly might require the introduction of new processes or materials. For example, low-friction coatings reduce the need for polluting lubricants. New materials include resins and fibers made from agricultural products.

When choosing materials to build an engine, Pratt & Whitney Canada claims already to have significantly reduced its use of “materials of concern;” 90 percent fewer parts now contain cadmium, for example.

In production, virtual reality helps optimize work flows in the factory, Stoufflet noted. One-shot processes help to reduce water and energy use. According to Francis Couillard, Snecma’s head of environmental affairs, the goal is to make the manufacturing process as short as possible.

Similarly, Gulfstream is adding eco-efficiency focus areas to ongoing Lean Six-Sigma efforts. “Many of our ongoing Lean practices that help us conserve manpower help us increase our resource efficiency as well,” a spokesperson said. Between 1998 and 2007, Dassault Aviation has reduced company-wide water use by one third and reduced total CO2 emissions by 27 percent.

Companies are also looking at their paint hangars as a place to reduce pollutants. Exterior paint on Falcons is now chromate-free and low-solvent. A new environment-dedicated laboratory in Dassault’s Argenteuil facilities approved such new paints.

Cessna is using a paint waste management system, serviced by Safety Kleen. It reduces the volume of solvent disposed of from topcoat operations. These units allow the company to recover wash solvent from paint waste to use for equipment cleanup.

At Pratt & Whitney Canada, a waste reduction project under way since 2006 aims to shrink waste by 10 percent by next year. The project encompasses various materials such as cardboard, wood, used oils and coolants. In addition, the Canadian engine manufacturer has been working to reduce machining waste. At its factories in Phoenix, Honeywell won awards for water treatment, Bevans told AIN.

Recyclable is not as good as recycled. At Tarbes-based Tarmac Aerosave, an Airbus joint venture with waste treatment specialist Sita, engine maker Snecma and other firms, new processes are helping to make the aircraft dismantling business both cleaner and more profitable.

Consider this example: an Airbus A310 that holds a €5 million ($7 million) residual value. Parts and equipment can be sold on the spares market for the same amount. The final dismantling phase can cost €50,000 ($70,000).

Tarmac has developed a spectrometer to sort the various kinds of aluminum alloy. A company can make a profit if it sells these materials for more than the dismantling cost. But sorting every kind of metal is not worthwhile if prices are low on commodity markets. Therefore, although Tarmac can recycle 85 percent of any aircraft, sometimes the percentage is actually lower.