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Can aviation reboot greener?

“Aviation will be sustainable as ground and air vehicles and facilities will be powered by sustainable alternative fuel, electricity or solar energy.” It was one of my New Decade´s predictions for aviation and logistics at the beginning of this year.

At that time, I certainly didn’t anticipate the COVID-19 crisis and its colossal impacts on the world and on our industry… but does it change the need to build a sustainable air transport system? Or is it a sign that there is no other choice than a green reboot?

We keep seeing the number of flights decreasing everywhere

According to FlightRadar24, in the past month, there has been a 90% drop in airborne traffic. In the past few days, the global commercial air traffic has stabilized at around 29% of the previous levels.

Image source: FlightRadar24

The OAG data confirms this dramatic situation with the number of scheduled flights down by 59% globally compared to last year.

On the airports side, the Airport Council International (ACI) World predicts there will be more than 38% reduction in passenger volumes globally in 2020, already confirming the worldwide passenger traffic dropped by 28.3% at airports and the total airport revenues by 33% in the first quarter of 2020 (compared to the forecasts).

With international travel restrictions in place, most of the airlines have now grounded their fleet. Cirium is monitoring the number of in-storage aircraft daily and according to their data, the in-service fleet now represents just over 38% of the global inventory.

Today, less flights means less CO2 produced

Because airplanes fly less, and because they can also fly better.

The Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) announced last week the launch of an environmental initiative to facilitate optimal flight paths while traffic volumes are lower than usual.

Some airlines like Lufthansa, Air Canada, and KLM have already announced the earlier retirement of older and less fuel-efficient aircraft. This trend should have an automatic impact on fleet performance in terms of carbon emissions as airlines will be able to restart their operations using the most fuel-efficient aircraft first.

Hopefully, travel restrictions will be progressively lifted as the spread of the virus is contained and aircraft will be flying again, reconnecting the world. While COVID-19 might eventually be eradicated, climate change will not go away, and air transport will still have an enormous responsibility to be sustainable and cleaner.

Individual companies and industry players show they can be creative in times of crisis and develop greener aviation practices. How can we take advantage of such innovative operations developed during the crisis to establish long term best practices?