Air transport is the second largest source of CO2 emissions in transportation after road transport. Indeed, in the space of 30 years, technical advancements have enabled the sector to halve emissions per passenger per kilometer. However, this is insufficient to counterbalance the increase in emissions due to the rise in air traffic.
· Air transport emits nearly 2% of global CO2 emissions (1), or between 600 and 700 million tons per year according to sources, for a means of transport that only concerns 10% of the world population.
· It contributes 4.9% to global warming (1).
Since 2012, the European Union regulates intra-EEA (European Economic Area) flights through its greenhouse gas emission allowance trading scheme (EU ETS).
It also requires a portion of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) to be incorporated into the overall kerosene supply, with a progressive increase from 2% in 2025 to 63% in 2050.
At the global level, the EU is working with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) to implement CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), a measure that encourages airlines to offset their emissions by financing green projects. Based on volunteer participation for a six-year pilot period, it will become mandatory for all airlines in 2027.
· Biofuels and e-fuels, grouped under the SAFs label, can be an alternative to kerosene, but their cost, 2 to 5 times higher than that of kerosene, hampers their adoption. Another important point, the carbon footprint differs significantly from one biofuel to another, approaching that of kerosene in some cases.
· Beyond reducing direct emissions to zero, electric planes offer many other advantages, such as high reliability and very low noise emissions. However, the capacity and weight of batteries limit the development of these devices to short flights with few passengers. Swedish company Heart Aerospace is currently working on the development of the ES-30. This regional transport plane, which is scheduled to enter service in 2028, will accommodate up to 30 passengers, with a range of 200 km in electric mode and 400 km in hybrid mode.
· By 2035, Airbus aims to launch the first "ZEROe" hydrogen-powered plane. Before the launch of this device, many technical challenges need to be overcome, particularly concerning fuel storage and delivery, the need for lightweight, cost-effective cryogenic tanks, and the design of the plane itself.
Useful link: Calculate the amount of CO2 emitted during your flight
(1) Perlman, K. (2018). Contribution of the Global Aviation Sector to Achieving Paris Agreement Climate Objectives.