Aviation industry fueling the future with sustainability

Following rising concerns about climate change and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry is building a well-established strategy for sustainability.

Aviation industry fueling the future with sustainability
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According to an Accenture report on ‘A shorter runway to net-zero’ written by John Schmidt, Senior Managing Director – Aerospace & Defense, Global industry lead, Claudia Galea, Global Sustainability Lead – Aerospace and Defense and David Silver, Vice President – Civil Aviation Aerospace Industries Association, although aviation may appear to be an unlikely leader on the path to a more sustainable future, the industry has been built on the notion that everything is possible. With more firms aiming to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the industry has made great progress in developing new methods to lessen its environmental effect.

According to industry experts, the air cargo sector will have an increased capacity in 2023 with the recovery of the belly space of passenger flights resulting in increased fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Given the shorter runway required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, as per the Accenture report, the aviation sector will need to address carbon emissions on numerous fronts if it is to meet its ambitious target. It will need a mix of corporate and government activities, ecosystem plays, energy supply adjustments, and new technology. It will also necessitate tackling the decarbonization of both the energy source and onboard technology at the same time.

“We acknowledge that it will be a tremendous challenge, but we are convinced that by collaborating with the entire ecosystem and investing our energy into sustainability initiatives, and embracing emerging technologies net Zero 2050 is achievable through a combination of measures.”

Michiel Potjer, Sustainability Lead, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo

This report delves into the significant developments and efforts that are altering the aviation sector, emphasizing sustainable aviation's revolutionary potential.

Best Practices to Minimise Emission
As the world grapples with the difficulties of climate change and the need for sustainable practices, the logistics industry plays a critical role in lowering fuel use and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Efficient route planning and load consolidation have emerged as critical environmental mitigation measures.

“Optimising route planning and load consolidation is crucial for minimizing fuel consumption and GHG emissions in logistics operations. Best practices we are testing/considering for the near future include - efficient route planning, use of route optimisation software, consolidating shipments, alternative transportation modes, load consolidation, warehouse optimisation, dynamic load planning, collaborative planning, eco-driving practices and monitoring and performance measurement,” said Michiel Potjer, Sustainability Lead, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo (AFKLMP).

Route planning can play a crucial role in reducing CO2 emissions. Modern systems can optimise towards various optima, be it the most fuel-efficient route vs. the fastest route. However, there are many variables to consider and some of those might change while en route (wind, weather conditions, Air Traffic Control…). So, having transparency and providing the possibility to optimise for CO2 efficiency is a must-have today, which leaves room for the decision-making process considering multi-layered variables.

“Our pilots from flight operations make a valuable contribution to CO2 reduction by shutting down one of the B777's two engines after landing - where feasible - during the taxiing process to the parking position. This procedure is called RETI (Reduced Engine Taxi In). Here's how it works:

In principle, aircraft are always taxied with all available engines, whether an engine can still be shut down for taxiing depends largely on the local conditions and the aircraft's weight. Under favourable conditions, one of the engines on a B777 freighter is sufficient for taxiing up to the maximum landing weight of 260.8 tonnes. However, in order to shut down an engine after landing, a cool-down period of three minutes must be observed to allow it to thermally stabilise. With one engine we taxi more sustainably because per minute of taxiing time, we consume about 23 liters of less fuel and release about 55kg less CO2,” said Brian Kowalke, Environmental Manager, Lufthansa Cargo AG.

According to Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates SkyCargo, with a worldwide network of 150 destinations, including 9 freight-only destinations, Emirates minimises fuel consumption and GHG emissions by improving route planning. Emirates has launched a comprehensive fuel economy programme that actively investigates and implements methods to eliminate unnecessary fuel use and emissions wherever possible.

“One significant initiative includes the launch of ‘flex tracks’ or flexible routings, which partners us with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight, taking advantage of natural tailwinds, while avoiding headwinds and weather systems. We have also installed a robust fuel monitoring system that uses advanced data analytics to optimise the uplifting of fuel and potable water and to load aircraft at the optimal centre of gravity. Beyond corporate, Emirates pilots are empowered with the latest technology tools to review their flight performance, improving their awareness of how the flying techniques impact fuel consumption and carbon emissions,” said Sultan.

Technology Innovations
Lufthansa Cargo plays a role in the implementation of the EU regulation ReFuelEU. In the new ReFuelEU Aviation Regulation, the EU Commission has defined a binding quota of renewable fuels for aviation. By 2025, for example, at least two percent and by 2030 at least five percent of SAF must be blended. Compared to fossil fuels, SAF reduces CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent.

Lufthansa Cargo invests not only in renewable fuels but also in the constant modernisation of its fleet, operating the most fuel-efficient cargo aircraft on the market. To further increase the fleet's fuel efficiency, the company relies on innovative technology such as AeroSHARK, a unique surface layer that minimises frictional resistance on the aircraft. When applied to the whole 777 fleets of Lufthansa Cargo, this alone may save roughly 13,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and over 4,000 tonnes of kerosene each year.

“Emirates Delivers enables customers to store purchases for up to 30 days and then consolidate them into one package, which not only saves on shipping costs but also streamlines into one delivery.”

Nabil Sultan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Emirates SkyCargo

“Any technological innovation helps to minimise supply chain disruptions. Such disruptions usually cost time, money and in case freight is not available at the airport, worst case a position leaves unfilled, which makes a flight less fuel efficient. Anticipating delays through the application of IoT helps manage such disruptions and react to the incident before it happens. In general, it could be said that technology can be helpful in increasing trust where it is low - to strengthen transparency. In our view, there is no immediate/direct advantage for sustainability - unless a specific application enables progress in this direction in the future,” said Kowalke.

Digitisation is a key aspect of Emirates' sustainability strategy, with AI-based capabilities allowing Emirates SkyCargo to respond to market dynamics and nuances depending on factors such as demand and route planning in real-time.

“In 2022, Emirates SkyCargo upgraded its digital customer journey through a partnership with WebCargo, which offers forwarders real-time rates, capacity, and instant eBookings on Emirates flights. This serves to improve the customer experience but also has the added benefit of reducing paper waste. However, while we are exploring ways to incorporate more automation and technology into the back-end, logistics side of its operation, Emirates SkyCargo will never remove the human touch from our operations which is one of Emirates’ key differentiators,” said Sultan.

eCommerce Growth Impacts Sustainability
The rise of eCommerce has had a huge influence on aviation sustainability, both positively and negatively. While eCommerce has provided convenience and economic benefits, it has also boosted air freight traffic, which has concerns about GHG emissions and long-term sustainability.

“Identifying an opportunity, we launched Emirates Delivers in 2019. An end-to-end solution that connects UAE-based consumers with eCommerce retailers in the US and the UK that do not offer international delivery, Emirates Delivers provides fast, reliable, and cost-effective transport door-to-door. Leveraging Emirates’ vast global network, purchases can be delivered in just 3 – 5 working days. Providing more flexibility, Emirates Delivers enables customers to store purchases for up to 30 days and then consolidate them into one package, which not only saves on shipping costs but also streamlines into one delivery. We have plans to expand Emirates Delivers across the region, providing a reliable and trustworthy solution to the region’s savvy shoppers, “ said Sultan.

Last-mile delivery, or the final leg of the delivery process to the customer's door, is an important aspect of eCommerce. Keeping delivery on schedule typically necessitates the use of many modes of transportation, including trucks and vans for shorter distances.

“Our pilots from flight operations make a valuable contribution to CO2 reduction by shutting down one of the B777's two engines after landing. With one engine we taxi more sustainably because per minute of taxiing time, we consume about 23 liters of less fuel and release about 55kg less CO2”.

Brian Kowalke, Environmental Manager, Lufthansa Cargo AG

Given the rapidity of fulfilment that customers anticipate, demand for air transport will rise, with International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicting that between 18 and 20% of air freight now comprises eCommerce orders. The social and economic implications of linking individuals to retail all around the world are huge.

“Growth in air cargo transportation is a knife that cuts on two sides: On one hand, we are proud of the important role AFKLMP Cargo plays in the global supply value chain. On the other hand, we recognise the impact of the air freight industry on global CO2 emissions and implications in the value chain from raw material to the end product. We are looking not only at the environmental aspects but we take Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) into account. We consider ESG an important conversation with our partners in the value chain. Next to the ESG conversation is connecting the shared values and approaches so that we can actively contribute to a more sustainable air freight industry. We combine this with our own ESG KPIs for mid (2030) and long-term (2050). Ultimately, we should address ESG-like safety rather than competing in the air freight industry,” said Potjer.

Can the Industry be Net Zero by 2050?
The aviation sector is under growing pressure to reduce GHG emissions and manage its environmental effect. As the global community ramps up its efforts to battle climate change, reaching net-zero emissions has become a critical aim for the industry.

Indeed, it won't be long until the industry experiences unprecedented emissions. While the aviation industry's carbon emissions account for roughly 2% of the current yearly global carbon budget, researchers predict that aviation will use between 12 and 27% of the remaining carbon budget by 2050 in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

“At AFKLMP Cargo, we are focusing on reaching the mid-term 2030 science-based targets (SBTi) and net-zero emissions by 2050. We acknowledge that it will be a tremendous challenge to achieve the goals, but we are convinced that by collaborating with the entire ecosystem and investing our energy into sustainability initiatives, and embracing emerging technologies, net-zero by 2050 is achievable through a combination of measures like SAF, new technologies, operational and infrastructure improvements, and offsetting/carbon capture and collective effort of the entire industry together with governments, suppliers and investors,” said Potjer.

Emirates' long-standing environmental policy and strategy promotes responsible business practices and the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their policy is implemented in three areas: reducing emissions, consuming responsibly, and preserving wildlife and habitats.

“Emirates supports IATA’s collective industry commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and ICAO’s Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG) for international aviation to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We are reviewing opportunities and pathways that will help to achieve this goal. These include fleet renewal, operational fuel efficiency, sustainable and low-carbon aviation fuels, and renewable energy. In the coming months, we will set objectives and targets to help us enhance ongoing programmes and processes that address our environmental impact, risks, and opportunities,” said Sultan.

The goal of generating net-zero emissions in the aviation sector by 2050 is ambitious but critical. Technological innovations, sustainable aviation fuels, simplified operations, offsetting methods, supportive policies, and altering customer preferences offer opportunities for the sector to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. However, significant challenges remain, such as the scalability of sustainable technology, infrastructure requirements, and the need for international cooperation. With industry and government support, adopting these best practices can reduce logistics operations' carbon footprint while enhancing overall efficiency and profitability.

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