Environment & sustainability
How does aviation affect the environment? What can you do about it?
Are you interested in aviation and want to make a positive impact on the environment? You could consider a career in sustainable aviation!
Sustainability is a field of work that studies ways to maintain an ecological balance by limiting the depletion of natural resources on Earth and addressing major environmental problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, land degradation, and air and water pollution. Sustainability is therefore a priority for all sectors, including aviation.
Sustainable aviation is a rapidly growing field that aims to reduce the environmental impact of air travel. This involves a number of initiatives, including developing new technologies, improving operations, and promoting sustainable practices throughout the aviation industry.
As an aviation professional with an interest in sustainability, you could work on projects such as developing alternative fuels for planes, improving air traffic control systems, making airports greener, providing better information to passengers and designing more efficient aircraft. Your work could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease noise pollution, and conserve resources.
Not only does sustainable aviation offer exciting career opportunities, but it also plays a crucial role in addressing global environmental challenges. By choosing a career in this field, you can be part of the solution and make a real difference.
Why is it important?
Aviation delivers significant connectivity, economic and cultural benefits but also has a significant environmental impact which contributes to the threat to our planet from climate change. We all must rise to the challenge to play a full part in helping make air travel greener, while retaining its vital role connecting people and businesses around the world.
What is the CAA’s role in this?
Many aerospace engineering companies, airlines and airports are already investing in new, more sustainable fuels, quieter aircraft and more efficient operating procedures that offer the most immediate prospects for mitigating aviation’s environmental impacts.
The UK government, as well as governments and other organisations around the world, are also setting targets that we need to achieve to ensure we can live and fly sustainably.
The CAA, as the regulator of the aviation industry in the UK, has an important role to play in making sure that the industry can become environmentally sustainable, while also being safe and efficient, and that consumers have choices and are treated fairly.
Our tasks will include:
- Supporting industry to develop new low- and zero-emission technologies
- Certifying new types of aircraft to ensure they are safe and sustainable to fly
- Ensuring new sustainable fuels are safe to use in aircraft
- Modernising UK airspace so aircraft can fly more efficient routes
- Reporting on how the industry is performing against environmental targets
While the CAA will carry out many roles, achieving environmentally sustainable aviation will rely on everyone working together, government, industry and the regulator alike.
How you can make a difference
As a young person with a passion for STEM and the environment, you can play a crucial role in shaping the future of aviation. Whether you’re interested in economics, aerospace engineering, the science of aviation noise, becoming a pilot, computer science, or environmental science, there are countless career paths in aviation that can help you make a real difference to both people and our planet.
Imagine designing a revolutionary new aircraft that runs on renewable energy, or developing software that helps planes fly more efficiently and reduce their carbon footprint.
Or maybe you’re interested in studying the impact of air travel on the environment and working to create policies and technologies that make aviation more sustainable.
Whatever your interests and talents may be, the aviation industry has a place for you. With hard work, dedication, and a commitment to making a difference, you can become a leader in aviation and help shape the future of our planet for generations to come.
What does the future of Aviation Sustainability look like?
The aviation industry is focusing on reducing its environmental impact through various measures, these include:
Adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)
SAFs are a promising alternative to fossil fuels, as they can reduce aviation emissions by up to 80%. The aviation industry is working towards producing SAFs from sustainable sources such as waste oils and agricultural residues. According to calculations by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), using SAF on a single London to New York flight could save up to 16,000 kilograms of CO2 emissions. To put this in perspective, that’s roughly equivalent to the emissions produced by growing and transporting 72,727 avocados from Mexico to the UK!
Development of Electric Aircraft
Electric aircraft are another promising avenue for reducing aviation emissions. While current electric aircraft have limited range and capacity, advances in battery technology and other innovations could make electric aircraft a viable option for short-haul flights in the future.
Development of Hydrogen fuelled aircraft
Planes that use hydrogen as their main source of power instead of traditional fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel. Hydrogen is a gas that can be produced from renewable energy sources like wind or solar power, which means it is much better for the environment than traditional fuels. These planes work by using a special engine that converts the hydrogen into energy that powers the plane’s propellers or turbines.
Improvements in Air Traffic Management
Better air traffic management can reduce aviation emissions (both CO2 and non-CO2) by optimizing flight paths, reducing congestion and minimizing delays which will be better both for the environment and for passengers.
Development of more Sustainable Airports
Airports are also taking steps to become more sustainable by adopting energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling systems, using renewable energy, and implementing waste reduction and recycling programs.
Governments around the world are introducing targets and regulations to reduce aviation emissions.
Overall, the future of aviation sustainability looks promising with the industry and governments working together to reduce aviation emissions and make air travel more sustainable. However, achieving true sustainability will require ongoing innovation and collaboration across the all parties.
Careers – Green Careers
While there are many existing green jobs in aviation, there are also several emerging careers that are going to become increasingly important in the years to come.
Sustainable Airport Infrastructure Designer
A sustainable airport infrastructure designer would be responsible for designing and implementing sustainable infrastructure solutions for airports, such as renewable energy systems, green buildings, and sustainable transportation options.
Carbon Capture and Storage Engineer
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities and stores them underground. In aviation, CCS could be used to capture emissions from aircraft engines and store them in geological formations or other underground storage facilities. A CCS engineer would be responsible for designing and implementing CCS systems that are specifically tailored to aviation.
Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) Supply Chain Manager
SAF are an important part of the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. These fuels are made from renewable sources and emit significantly less greenhouse gases than traditional aviation fuels. A SAF supply chain manager would be responsible for overseeing the production, transportation, and distribution of SAF from the source to the end-user.
Electric Aircraft Maintenance Technician
Electric aircraft are becoming increasingly popular as the technology continues to advance. These aircraft are powered by batteries, which means they emit no greenhouse gases during flight. An electric aircraft maintenance technician would be responsible for maintaining and repairing electric aircraft, including the batteries and other electrical components.
Green Aviation Policy Analyst
As the aviation industry becomes more focused on sustainability, there will be an increasing need for experts who can analyse and develop green aviation policies.
A green aviation policy analyst would be responsible for researching and developing policies and regulations that promote sustainable aviation practices, such as emissions trading, carbon pricing, and incentives for the development of sustainable aviation technologies.
Where can I find out more
Creative Climate Communication: 4 Scientists, 4 Approaches
More than ever, the world needs to hear and understand the story of climate change. Dry graphs and science jargon don’t cut it with most audiences.
Clever Carbon: The carbon footprint of common items
An informational website with stats on food consumption, general consumption, transportation and home.
Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation Fuel by Air Transport Action Group
In the early days of the jet age, speed and luxury were the drivers of intercontinental travel. Since then, efficiency has been a tremendous driver that has made air travel and transport central to modern life.
John Marshall: 3 strategies for effectively talking about climate change
A short talk on how to communicate a consistent message on climate change to raise awareness with the public and avoid abstract, unintelligible language.
Should we give up flying for the sake of the climate? By Jocelyn Timperley
For those of us that take regular holidays abroad and travel on business, flying makes up a considerable chunk of our carbon footprint, but are there ways of reducing those emissions?
Hydrogen jet fuel – is this the future of aviation?
Short video on Hydrogen as a jet fuel.
New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions as one-ton spheres of carbon dioxide gas
In 2010 New York City added 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent) to the atmosphere, but that number means little to most people because few of us have a sense of scale for atmospheric pollution.
Through demonstration, students will learn about properties and changes of properties of matter, as they witness firsthand how contrails are formed.
FAA: Contrails 101
What is a contrail? What are contrails made of? Can I see them? How are they formed? Where are they formed? and more…
GOV.UK: Aircraft contrails
Science and technical: What are contrails? Why can trails come from the aircraft tail and wings and not from the engines? Why do contrails seem to form grid like patterns in the sky? and more…
The current state of scientific understanding of the non-CO2 effects of aviation on climate
by David S. Lee
Manchester Metropolitan University& Department of Transport
CLIMATE SCIENCE 2030
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.
The Royal Society
Climate change: evidence and causes
Glossary of common environmental sustainability terms
The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced directly or indirectly by an individual, organization, or industry.
Carbon neutral and net zero
These are similar: in both cases, companies are working to reduce and balance their carbon footprint. When carbon-neutral refers to balancing out the total amount of carbon emissions, net-zero carbon means no carbon was emitted from the get-go, so no carbon needs to be captured or offset.
The practice of compensating for carbon emissions by funding projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors.
Improvements in aircraft design to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.
Any fuel other than conventional petroleum-based fuel used to power aircraft, including biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.
Fuels derived from renewable organic matter such as vegetable oils, waste cooking oil, and agricultural residues that can be used to power aircraft.
A model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible, to extend the life cycle of products and reduce waste to a minimum.
Continuous Descent Operations
An approach to landing that involves a gradual, constant descent, reducing noise and fuel consumption.
Continuous Climb Operations
As above, but for take-off, bringing similar economy of fuel and environmental benefits to noise and emission reduction.
Aircraft that are powered by electric motors rather than combustion engines, resulting in zero emissions during flight.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
An assessment of the environmental impacts of a product, process, or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal.
Low Emission Zones
Areas in and around airports where vehicles and equipment with high emissions are restricted or prohibited to reduce air pollution.
Techniques and technologies designed to minimize the impact of aircraft noise on local communities.
A field of work that studies ways to maintain an ecological balance by limiting the depletion of natural resources on Earth and addressing major environmental problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, land degradation, and air and water pollution.
This refers to the development and implementation of aviation practices that minimize environmental impact while maintaining economic and social benefits.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
Aviation fuel made from renewable and sustainable sources that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainable Aviation Management
The practice of managing aviation operations in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way.
A taxiing technique that involves using a single engine instead of both engines to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.