Peter Bunce, president and CEO of GAMA, agrees that taxing the industry is not the way to make it more green. In fact, Bunce says, money from taxes on aviation often fails to get cycled back into the industry — the concern being that the money is taken away but isn’t helping the issue, and is essentially just another excuse for more taxes.
Bunce also cites the need for development of the NextGen air traffic modernization program, which he considers crucial to the industry. He says that the avionics are in place now to fly precise flight paths. NextGen, he says, could provide a 12 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
In the meantime, greenhouse gas emissions need to be better defined, says Bunce. While the industry has reduced carbon emission by 50 percent with more efficient engines and airframes, those same models can end up producing more nitrous oxide.
Checking out alternatives
One issue ACI-NA, GAMA, and ATA all raise as being crucial to the industry is alternative fuels — especially “drop-in” fuels that can be used with existing aircraft and distribution systems.
“It can just move into an airport, into the tanks that you already have, put onto an existing fleet, and that way everyone can use them,” explains Sandy Webb, managing director of Environmental Consulting Group, Inc.
Bunce notes that GAMA has worked for 13 years to develop a transparent fuel for piston aircraft — but there just isn’t one. So, the association is working with oil companies to find the best solution.
He also says the drop-in fuels are so important because the industry just can’t afford to install separate lines and tanks for different fuels. He sees investment for NASA as being one option to helping develop a solution.
Steinhilber agrees with the urgency. “We’re looking at promoting alternatives to Jet-A.”
Meanwhile, ATA expresses concern about possible worse impacts on the environment that the production and burning of alternative fuels could cause.
“It is an ATA-adopted position that any fuel coming out of that process be at least as friendly on lifecycle basis as traditional fuel,” Bunce says.
Webb of Environmental Con-sulting Group, Inc. says even with high prices and the environmental impacts of aviation, there is still a growing demand for jet fuel.
“Even the most conservative scenarios show pretty substantial growth, which leads to a growing environmental footprint,” Webb says. “Those are concerns that we as an industry share.”
He says improving fuel efficiency is one part of the solution. “It’s changes to the engine,” Webb says. “It’s changes to the airframe, improvement of materials and design capabilities. There’s a lot of interest right now in alternative fuels. It’s not going to be quick, necessarily.”
“There are a number of different pathways to do this, some are near-term, some are longer term; we need to make sure that we’re pushing on all of them.”
For alternative fuels, Webb says, finding solutions is a bit more complicated than one might expect.
“There are a few considerations. One is energy efficiency. You’ve got a certain amount of heat in a given mass of fuel. An airplane has to carry fuel around and it costs energy to carry that fuel. So having a fairly energy-intensive fuel is very important.”
Webb says that for helping the environment, there are some solutions that aren’t far off.
“One near term opportunity in the works is considering ultra-low sulphur jet fuel,” Webb says. “You don’t have to bring in biomass or other feedstocks.”
The upside of the option, he says, is that the fuel could be used in diesel ground support equipment as well as aircraft, making it the single fuel used throughout an airport. It’s a popular idea in the military for that reason.
Longer term, Webb says, involves more processing, such as the Fischer-Trope process, in which hydrocarbon is broken down, then recombined. Typically called synthetic parrafin gas, its most well-known example is Sasol, which is made in South Africa.
Biodeisel is also a longer term option, Webb comments.
The Jury is Still Out ... But Not for Long
Among the adopted goals, ACI-NA announced that half of its member airports will strive to provide low-emission vehicle support infrastructure by 2019.
GAMA and other groups recognize obligation to further limit aviation's greenhouse gas emissions.