4 Major Ways Aviation Can Transit Towards A Low Carbon Path

Anusree Bhattacharya | January 7, 2022

The aviation industry has allowed people to connect the world in unimaginable ways. Due to this, it has contributed massively to social and economic development globally.

However, the aviation sector produces nearly 1.8% of annual carbon emissions. It is almost half of the total growth in carbon dioxide emissions in the last twenty years due to the expansion of flights, increasing routes, and airline sizes.

In the loop, the commercial aviation sector has also been affected by climate change. The change is due to increased noise levels, air pollution, and waste production.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the industry recorded 2.8% of global CO2 emissions in 2019. But now, the industry has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 through a focus on a critical low-carbon strategy, says IATA. By looking at this futuristic development, airline businesses are becoming more and more optimistic.

The Action Plan

The aviation industry has taken steps to reduce rising carbon emissions. The industry had framed targets that included carbon-neutral growth before the pandemic. But the pandemic compelled the industry to make some critical decisions. One of them is to fasten the action plan for low-carbon development.

McKinsey recently studied the industry’s  emissions. According to the report, the industry's aviation emissions would be reduced by 18 to 35 percent by 2030. However, as the aviation industry’s growth is recorded from Asia, including India, China, and Southeast Asia, decarbonization can only work if airlines from these nations actively participate in the development.

“For aviation, zero-carbon is a bold, audacious commitment. But it is also necessary.”

- IATA Director General Willie Walsh

Airlines and other businesses are under pressure to make rapid progress towards lower emissions. It is because breakthrough technology like hydrogen-powered planes has started manufacturing.

For example, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Inc., and United Airlines Holding Inc. have already made net-zero commitments by introducing hydrogen-powered planes. Similarly, JetBlue Airways Corp has set a target of 2040 to introduce low-carbon planes in no time.

So, by looking at above comitments, how will aviation progress in terms of low-carbon development? What are those fundamental ways that’ll guide the industry to see a sustainable future in real life?

4 Ways Aviation will Look Forward to Reducing Carbon Emissions

Green Fuel

Aviation considers green fuel as one of the quickest paths to low carbon development. Green fuel can be a game-changer in lessening carbon emission impacts. But, furthermore, it can lead to drastic climate change. Green fuel, also known as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), is made from renewable sources such as plants or waste.

As per IATA, SAF can cut carbon emissions by nearly 80%.

But specific concerns like cost and availability are equally essential to think about. For example, the United States and other countries consider subsidies to decrease prices and increase supplies. They are practicing this due to limited availability. Also, some airlines are blending small amounts into the fuel they buy for their aircraft.

Other concerns, such as planes running properly on pure SAF, are also highlighted. In addition, flight engines based on petroleum fuel rely on their oily qualities to lubricate parts and function appropriately. So, it's unclear if green fuels offer that amount of strength in their engines to fly a flight.

Despite so many heated concerns (that are valid), the industry still looks good as Boeing (BA.N) studies the above issue. It has even committed to ensuring its planes are certified for 100% SAF by 2030.

Lower Carbon Technologies

Technological improvements to lower carbon emissions include retrofitting existing aircraft, adopting the latest fuel-efficient aircraft, retiring old aircraft, and others.

Several ongoing electric or hybrid-electric aircraft technology projects are in the pipeline. They are being identified to enter the industry between 2022-2030. In contrast, some of them are already in service.

Developments in Infrastructure

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has created plans to reduce fuel burn and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The plans have been forwarded to optimize communication, navigation, surveillance (CNS), and air transport management (ATM) regarding zero-carbon development.

Apart from this, airlines are also working to align emission cuts with investments. Consumption of fuel usually covers 20-30% of operational costs. It is one of the highest costs of an airline business. So now airlines are considering adopting fuel-efficient flying and airport operations.


Today, aviation needs more stakeholders for a sustainable future. They can only increase the efficiencies and development of SAF. 

Stakeholders from technology providers, oil companies, and energy production could drive demand and help bridge the cost gap. For instance, airlines commit to buying SAF at a particular price or at a different price than traditional fuel jets. These factors could eliminate market risks for fuel suppliers.

Next, airlines can work with B2B customers willing to pay for the decarbonization initiative. For example, airlines could use loyalty-program rewards as incentives for every customer to choose airlines that use SAF. Collaborations like these can help the industry accelerate its low carbon emission initiatives.

These Top Airlines Commit to Using New Technologies

Aviation industry leaders aim for 30% of the aircraft to operate with the help of new technologies by 2030. They strongly support the introduction of hydrogen and electric-powered planes to the market in order to reduce the industry's carbon footprint.
So, let’s see the airlines and their commitment to creating a sustainable aviation future.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand’s initiatives such as True Target Zero accelerate the adoption of zero-emission aircraft worldwide. Air New Zealand is delighted to work with other industry leaders working towards net-zero goals.

“Air New Zealand pledges to put low carbon solutions in place for all our smaller domestic and regional flights in the future. However, we know that the drive to decarbonize the aviation industry is impossible for one airline to tackle alone. Rather it’s a joint venture, and it's all about joining hands together.”

- David Morgan, Chief Operational Integrity & Safety Officer, Air New Zealand

Mokulele Airlines and Southern Airways

Mokulele Airlines, the largest intra-state carrier in America, has already worked for many years as a maven to bring electrification to its air transportation system.

“We are satisfied to join the World Economic Forum in seeking a global public commitment to promoting sustainable air travel.”

- Stan Little, Chairman & CEO, Mokulele Airlines and Southern Airways

Braathens Regional Airlines

The airline has the ambition to make its flights fossil-free by 2030. The airline has included electric planes, and with its partnership with True Zero Aviation, it is taking steps to accelerate towards actual low carbon emissions.

Can Aviation Make a Difference in the New Path of Development?

There are a lot of positive aviation stories from all over the globe. However, aviation also has some barriers to the new path of low-carbon development. Nevertheless, aviation can undoubtedly make a difference by introducing technologies, implementing result-driven strategies, implementing the right tools, and many more.

But from the customers' perspective, choosing to fly less can be another good reason to reduce an individual’s carbon pollution. The reduction can be up to 50% each year. So even avoiding long-distance flight travel could make a significant difference to aviation.

Business travelers could adopt or choose to use virtual meeting technology. These could be other crucial factors limiting the carbon footprint in the atmosphere.

Whatever you choose to opt for, it is high time to contribute to a more sustainable aviation sector for the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can airlines reduce their carbon footprint?

Airlines can introduce more efficient aircraft. Efficiency in technological aspects, reduce flight delays, and increase the use of sustainable lower-carbon or alternative fuels. Also, investment plays a vital role here. They can invest in emissions initiatives and promote low-carbon travel.

How can an airline achieve its carbon-neutral goals?

An airline can explore hybrid and electric aircraft technology to reach carbon-neutral goals, reduce carbon emissions using SAF, and embrace fewer flight routes (distance).

Do aircraft harm the atmosphere?

Aircraft create very polluting elements and are highly challenging means of transport. Indeed, air traffic represents less than 2%-3% of the global CO2 emissions, yet it transmits direct CO2 emissions than cars on roads.


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