Simply by virtue of its incessant quest to defeat gravity more efficiently for greater profit, civil aviation has been cleaning up its act continuously since Dec. 17, 1903.
However, in the new climate of climate change and perhaps because they emit their gases in the upper reaches of the great greenhouse itself, jet airplanes are attracting attention out of proportion to their emissions. But even if aviation as a whole does contribute only 2 percent of the pollutants warming the planet, the industry is approaching the task of cleaning up its act seriously and urgently–too seriously, in the opinion of most operators facing compliance with Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), and not urgently enough for those who see mankind fiddling while Rome melts.
In this special report, AIN examines the front lines of business aviation’s campaign to be more ecologically restrained: cutting CO2 emissions; the harsh realities of Europe’s emissions trading scheme, now threatened by the non-recognition of the U.S. Congress and mounting objections from others; the supply and use of newly approved biofuels; and recycling the growing number of tired old airframes and engines that have shuffled off into the sunset.
Although the future of Europe’s ETS, due to take effect in January but recently blackballed by the U.S. Congress, is now in question, the proposed program has already caused business aviation operators untold grief because its infant bureaucracy was not up to the task of precisely defining the data it thought it wanted and then processing the subsequent inflow of information.
Biofuels have gained some credibility thanks to recent acceptance of standards for aviation use, but establishing the feedstock and refinery infrastructure necessary for widespread use would require immense investment from a financial community that is timid at this stage to be first in. Questions persist about the encroachment of biofuel feedstocks on food-crop land and about the true energy cost of producing biofuels.
Aircraft manufacturers are now mindful of the end-of-life disposal process while creating new aircraft designs, but they have yet to devise a method for recycling carbon fiber that is as effective as dismantling, smelting and reusing aluminum structures.
The head-butting now under way between the U.S. and Europe over ETS is the strongest confirmation yet that global warming will not be tackled and surmounted without heated confrontation.