NBAA Convention News

BACE Panel Tackles Decarbonization Challenges

 - October 18, 2022, 5:08 PM
(Photo: Mariano Rosales)

The challenges facing aviation’s decarbonization took center stage at the NBAA sustainability lunch on Tuesday at the organization’s annual convention.

A panel discussion hosted by journalist Miles O’Brien explored the hurdles and focus areas that will be needed to meet aviation’s stated goals. The industry has been working on improving efficiency for decades and has seemingly solved the easy problems but the remaining 20 percent of improvements needed is the tough part, according to Amanda Simpson, v-p of research and technology at Airbus Americas.

“Of the remaining work to be done, we estimate there is probably 8 to 10 percent that’s on the operation side,” Simpson said, noting inefficiencies present in the system due to waiting to take off, circling at low altitude, or time of commercial transport waiting on the ground for a gate to open. “These are inefficiencies that one would think are the easy part to wring out of the system.”

While sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is widely viewed as the most current and impactful solution, the current several million gallon a year production is still but a drop in the bucket compared to the 34 billion gallons needed by the industry.

“This is a problem of extraordinary scale,” said Erik Lindbergh, grandson of legendary pioneer Charles Lindbergh and chairman of the Lindbergh Foundation, which aims to spur the decarbonization of aviation using incentive prizes. He noted that his grandfather earned his place in history chasing the Orteig prize for the first pilot to fly the Atlantic nonstop. “People forget that aviation was developed in the early days by warfare and prizes.”

Most SAF is presently produced from organic sources such as oil crops and waste fats, but Simpson sees the future as newly-developed and still very costly synthetic fuels. “Where you are not using biofuels, you are literally drawing literally fuel from the atmosphere. But all these things take energy.” She added that ramp-up will require coordination with the energy industry, which needs a “fundamental reshaping on a global scale.”

Jaiwon Shin, former associate administrator of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and current CEO of Supernal, Hyundai Motor Group’s advanced airborne mobility division, noted that the automobile industry is also undergoing a sustainability change. “There is a huge transformation happening at the moment from internal combustion to electric vehicles. Where are you going to get all that electricity?”

In terms of energy, with other power sources on the horizon to propel aircraft, House aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) explained that airports need to now be thinking about their future infrastructure investments. “If they’re not pouring [jet fuel] in the but they are pouring electricity into the metaphorical tank, or hydrogen, that is a completely different ground infrastructure than airports currently have.”