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APEX Insight: The aviation industry faces a great challenge to balance historic growth with a pressing need to protect the environment by reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. This will require innovations in design, aircraft and infrastructure. The best way to ensure improvement is to measure progress, and the industry has set specific targets for sustainability initiatives. At the IATA Media Day in Geneva last week, Michael Gill, director of Aviation Environment presented a three-step action plan from the industry, in keeping with the objectives of the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.

At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Media Day in Geneva last week, the association’s director of Aviation Environment, Michael Gill, shared updates on the industry’s specific targets for sustainability, in keeping with the objectives of the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.

“Currently, aviation contributes around two percent of all human CO2 emissions – around 700 million tonnes last year,” Gill said. “However we have taken a very proactive approach… aimed at seeking this fundamental balance: aviation’s license to grow and provide its significant economic and social benefits on the one hand, and its responsibility for climate change on the other.”

Gill presented a three-step action plan from the industry, based on specific and measurable goals:

Goal 1: Improved fuel efficiency across the global fleet by an average of 1.5 percent per year until 2020.

“This [initiative] is already bearing fruit,” Gill said. “In fact, the industry is currently tracking ahead of our goal, with an average fuel efficiency improvement of 2.9 percent per year. That’s a cumulative fuel efficiency improvement since 2009 of 13.6 percent”

Goal 2: Stabilized net aviation CO2 emissions at 2020 levels with carbon neutral growth.

“This carbon-neutral growth is an effort by the industry to acknowledge that many countries want to continue their aviation development – to ensure trade and tourism into the future – but we need to balance that with climate action,” said Gill. “The concept allows us to keep feeding economic activity and also cap our emissions.”

Goal 3: Reduce aviation’s net CO2 emissions to 50 percent of what they were in 2005 by 2050.

“This is much longer-term than the previous two, but aviation partners are already working together to put in place the building blocks to achieve it,” said Gill. “We are concentrating action in two key areas: a combination of technological advancements and the development of sustainable alternative fuels.”

“The industry is currently tracking ahead of our goal, with an average fuel efficiency improvement of 2.9 percent per year.” – Michael Gill, IATA

Airbus and Boeing are both actively engaged in such green technology initiatives for alternative fuels including more efficient aircraft designs.

Tracking the industry’s performance on these goals through market-based measures (MBMs) is essential to success. This falls under the scope of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), which includes representatives from member state governments, civil society and the industry.

“While the general policy behind the CO2 standard is fairly simple and is fully supported by the aviation industry,” Gill said, “the technicalities are a little more complex. The regulations drawn up [by the ICAO committee] tell manufacturers how to measure CO2 emissions levels, taking into consideration size, weight and the varying stages of flight and conditions encountered.”

Gill also told reporters present: “To date, no other industry has been able to agree and put forward targets like these at the global level.”

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.