Delivering more sustainable aviation

There are steps that can be taken right now to reduce emissions associated with aviation


How can aviation double in size, while reducing its environmental footprint? Civil aviation is a service for the benefit of all, but it’s not without its impact on the environment. As aviation continues to grow rapidly (almost doubling in the past decade, to 4.4 billion passengers/year), the need for reductions in GHG (greenhouse gas, such as CO2) emissions goes hand-in-hand with an imperative to eliminate single-use plastics.

Cutting fuel burn and GHG emissions

In 2016, 191 nations agreed to a UN accord aiming to stabilize global aviation carbon emissions at 2020 levels by 2035. Another ambitious target of that agreement is for the aviation industry to achieve a 50 percent carbon emission reduction by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. Meanwhile, the commercial aircraft fleet is projected to more than double in size, from 21,450 tails (2018) to 48,000 in 2037.

There are four key ways in which the aviation industry intends to achieve these goals:

  1. Carbon offsetting in the short-term;
  2. Continued development of more efficient planes;
  3. Deeper investment in sustainable fuels, such as biofuels;
  4. Better route efficiency.

Cutting fuel burn means cutting emissions

Viasat has a commitment to sustainability across all corporate operations. In our Commercial Aviation segment, we are actively building products that airlines can leverage to reduce their carbon footprint. Our wireless IFEC and digital document products can dramatically reduce the aircraft weight, with savings in fuel costs and lower GHG emissions. Our Connected Flight Deck helps pilots optimize routes in real-time, again cutting fuel consumption while increasing passenger comfort.

Eliminating single-use plastics

The European Union has agreed to ban single-use plastic items such as cutlery and plates by 2021. This will come as a relief to everyone who’s flown long-haul and seen all the plastic waste generated at mealtimes, including food containers, wrappers and cutlery. Airlines are looking at a range of materials to replace plastic, from potato starch to bamboo, to meet this goal. One airline is currently trialing edible coffee cups, so you eat the vanilla-flavored container after your drink. While the airlines work hard, we can play our part also.

Here are some ways all of us as passengers can reduce our plastic waste footprint when flying:

  1. Travel with a refillable water bottle. Often made from double-walled steel to keep water cool, these can be refilled across your journey, preventing multiple instances of plastic bottle waste. Many airports now offer filtered water taps.
  2. When served a beverage on a flight, decline plastic cups. Or hold onto the cup and re-use it.
  3. Pack your own food and snacks, in reusable containers.
  4. Carry your own headphones/earbuds for in-flight entertainment.
  5. Avoid travel-sized toiletries. These don’t even last a week and generate so much plastic waste. Buy toiletries on arrival or pack your own in checked baggage.

Cutting paper waste

A modern commercial aircraft is a complicated thing. And complicated things require manuals, lots of manuals. A pilot needs a full set, obviously. Then there are the airline operating manuals, up to 40 kg of paper per pilot. For 290,000 pilots (Source: CAE, Airline Pilot Demand Outlook, 2017) and growing, that makes up to 11,600 tons of paper being lugged around by jet fuel unnecessarily every day. Aviation is currently undergoing mass adoption of EFBs. Digital documents and intelligent information also enhance user experience, with faster search and knowledge management.


Airbus fleet growth projections

Gary Byrnes works on the Flight Operations team at Viasat’s Commercial Aviation business in Dublin.