Eco travel: What are our current options for green aviation

  • Carbon emissions from aviation accounted for about 2.5% of global emissions in 2018.
  • Fuel-efficient planes, sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsetting remain the most feasible environmentally-friendly options.
  • Despite trending global movements to get individuals to reduce air travel, the onus is still on the aviation industry and governments to evolve greener options.

When the first commercial flight took off on 1 January 1914, the carbon emissions contributing to air pollution were probably not the highest priority.

More than a century later, in 2019, the actions of young environmental activist Greta Thunberg helped raise awareness of the Swedish term flygskam — translated as “flight shame” — to the rest of the world. Her decision to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat, instead of going by plane, to attend a United Nations summit captured the world’s imagination.

In fact, it was Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg, who started the movement in 2017 with his pledge to give up flying.

The aim of flygskam is to influence individuals to reduce their air travel, thus lowering the carbon emissions released by planes. To be clear, the aviation industry as a whole has also been making significant moves to implement environmentally-sustainable practices.

While carbon emissions from aviation accounted for about 2.5% of total global emissions in 2018, they have increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018.

According to NASA, green aviation is a term used to describe activities in the industry that improve aircraft efficiency, and reduce noise pollution and greenhouse gases — all that in turns lowers carbon emissions.

Airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports are all taking important steps to ensure that the industry evolves to provide environmentally-conscious consumers with greener options.

Fuel consumption of aircraft has been vastly improving, with big players like Airbus and Boeing producing more efficient planes such as the Airbus A350 XWB and Boeing 737 Dreamliner. A fuel-efficient aircraft means the aircraft can travel a longer distance on one gallon of fuel.

The industry is also pumping in research and development into electric aircraft, whether it’s a fully-electric aircraft or a hybrid-electric aircraft, which means an aircraft propelled by both fuel and an electric battery.

Another way to greener aviation is to diversify fuel type by using sustainable aviation fuels, which can be produced from plants, algae, cooking oil, and even municipal waste.

Sustainable aviation fuels are alternatives that can directly replace conventional jet fuel as they have the same qualities and characteristics. Both types of fuel can be used on the same aircraft, engine and fuel delivery system.

In 2019, an Etihad Airways commercial flight powered a Boeing 787 Dreamliner using a mix of jet and biofuel made from Salicornia, a plant that grows in the Abu Dhabi desert. In addition, more than 170,000 flights to date have used biofuel blends, including flights by Qantas Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Alaska Airlines.

Airports such as Norway’s Oslo Airport and Bergen Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Stockholm Arlanda Airport are also making sustainable aviation fuels available to all airlines on a regular basis.


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