U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan at the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. For the first time, the national aviation strategy established a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050.
We’ve been seeing various initiatives related to sustainable aviation throughout the year, coming from both the government and industry representatives. Now, it was time for an official statement and strategy to confirm these trends, set a long-term target, and highlight the main routes that will lead to achieving this goal.
As expected, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production is one of the key elements of the new strategy. SAF can be obtained from multiple sources, including feedstock, waste, biomass, and oils, and is able to cut emissions by 100% throughout an aircraft’s lifecycle. The government has also launched the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Grand Challenge, meant to accelerate SAF production, and reach 3 billion gallons per year, within the decade.
Another important area of development is aircraft design. Both NASA and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) are collaborating with industry partners, through the Sustainable Flight National Partnership, to design and produce new aircraft technologies. According to the official document, narrow-body aircraft are expected to enter service in the 2030s, and new wide-body versions – in the 2040s.
The national aviation strategy also highlights the role that airports should play in cutting emissions, by increasing operational efficiency. This means striving for fuel savings in all phases of flight, replacing conventional ground vehicles with zero-emissions alternatives, and implementing several processes to cut energy consumption at airports.
Operational efficiency also means looking beyond fuel and propulsion innovations, to find innovative ways of cutting emissions. One way is reducing contrail formation (the German Aerospace Center has an entire program dedicated to this), and another interesting option is formation flight (Airbus has recently demonstrated the benefits of this type of flight).
FAA has already implemented a new software that reduces aircraft taxiing and has invested in electrical airport equipment, to cut energy consumption.