Business aviation has long suffered a perception problem over its carbon footprint, and the need to convince governments of the industry's commitment to environmental sustainability now more than ever presents a challenge it shouldn’t ignore. While the industry can claim it accounts for just 2 percent of the CO2 that commercial aviation emits, the view of a business jet as a gold-plated conveyance for a certain stratum of individuals with an outsized carbon footprint sometimes overshadows the societal good business aviation has done. Whether or not one considers that tension valid or understandable, industry leaders have come to recognize the importance of educating the public on the contributions business aviation has made to the technological progress from which everyone benefits.
Former Bombardier Aviation president David Coleal, who left the company on October 1 and is also GAMA environmental committee chairman, spoke with AIN in September and highlighted the fact that younger people—those who comprise what one day will become business aviation’s customer base—generally show more concern for the environment than previous generations. Consequently, exhibiting a commitment to sustainability makes good long-term business sense.
“We clearly have to make sure that our industry is not seen as a contributor, but as a leader in sustainability,” said Coleal. “So, from a social perspective, business aviation—with flight shaming and all these things—we’ve become an easy target. We have to continually be out front demonstrating leadership. And we all have to make sure that we’re not doing anything that is a detriment to our future customers. We want them to fly private so that they can see the benefit in safety and sustainability and advanced technology and job creation—all the great things this industry does.”
While much of today’s effort from the business aviation perspective centers on promoting the availability and viability of sustainable alternative fuels (SAF), new airframe, avionics, and engine technology, for example, have long contributed to the fuel burn reduction and dramatic noise cuts vital to the aviation industry’s drive for environmental sustainability.
Along with SAF, air traffic control infrastructure, and market-based measures, technological innovation today stands as one of the four pillars of sustainability, even if environmental concerns haven't always been an apparent motivator in the quest for better, faster, and more economical airplanes. While wing design advances allow for more speed and better performance overall, the industry can now point to the resulting environmental benefits their more efficient lift characteristics bring vis a vis less fuel burn.
While participating in the Virtual Business Aviation Sustainability Summit in mid-September, Coleal talked about the contribution of wing design advances to environmental progress, specifically citing the fuel burn improvements generated by Bombardier’s Global family. “For example, the Global 5500 and 6500 are 13 percent more fuel-efficient than their predecessors, and the 7500 features everything from a next-generation perspective,” said Coleal.
“The importance of wing design is that it allows you to be efficient in all phases of flight, especially during takeoff and landing when you have high power settings and, therefore, higher emissions. Having an airfoil that allows you to get off the ground quickly and back to a cruise setting is really critical for CO2 emission. And when you’re coming in and the aircraft’s dirty and you’re fully deployed…having an airfoil that gives you a lot of lift for lower power settings can actually help reduce CO2 emissions.”
Coleal noted that a highly efficient wing allows an aircraft to benefit from other systems advances—in engines, for example. “I think this integration of the entire aircraft becomes important; it’s how we think about a recipe for the future,” he explained. “This helps reduce the whole CO2 footprint from cradle to operation to retirement.”
But just as an aircraft’s environmental footprint benefits from the smart integration of airframe with engines, a more efficient airplane needs an efficiently designed infrastructure to realize its full sustainability potential, added Coleal.
“Aircraft can typically come in and land quickly, but when you have this infrastructure that has planes vectoring out and loitering and burning fuel…it’s a waste,” he said. “That’s why I think the beauty of the way we’ve approached this is we want very advanced aircraft that can operate in a seamless, efficient operating system on the lowest-emission fuel. All three of those things in conjunction I think give us a truly holistic approach to how we reduce emissions. And in the short term, if some of those aren’t there, you can use book and claim and carbon offsets to kind of round out the entire system.”