Green Skies – Sustainability in Aviation

May 25, 2018

When it comes to sustainability and going green, aviation probably isn’t the first industry you think of for making great strides and advancements in protecting the planet. It’s a surprise to most people to learn that the aviation industry has been working diligently for many years to find ways to reduce our environmental footprint and is heading up ground breaking research that will change the way aircraft everywhere operate and are fueled.

The Centre for Research in Sustainable Aviation (CRSA) was established in Toronto in 2013 and has been a catalyst for all kinds of positive change, including improvements in aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, aeroacoustics, biofuels and aviation policy. The goal of CRSA and our industry at large is to build and operate aircraft that run cleaner and quieter, reducing CO2 emissions and addressing issues related to noise pollution as well.

The use of biofuels in aviation has become a major area of research and development both nationally and globally. Here in Canada, researchers at the University of British Columbia have teamed up with aviation giant Boeing, SkyNRG and a group of other stakeholders to turn leftover branches, sawdust and other forestry waste into a form of sustainable fuel. The first civil jet flight in the world to be powered by 100% biofuel took to the sky in Canada in 2012, and since then extensive research has being done to better understand biofuel attributes and their overall environmental impact. As a result of that research, the Canadian Biojet Supply Chain Initiative (CBSCI) was founded in 2016 – a three-year collaborative project involving 14 stakeholder organizations to introduce 400,000 litres of sustainable jet fuel into a shared system at a yet to be determined Canadian airport.

In addition to scientific advancements, aviation policy is changing too. More and more pilots are utilizing what is known as Continuous Descent Approach to arrival – a landing technique whereby the aircraft begins descending from an optimal position with minimum thrust and avoids level flight as much as safely possible. (Conventional descent uses a stepwise technique with portions of level flight in between.) Continuous descent reduces aircraft noise, fuel burn and emissions prior to touchdown.

These changes and advancements are exciting, but more than that, they are simply the right thing to pursue – not just for the sake of the planet, but for our industry as well. Environmental initiatives in aviation will help reduce operating costs in our industry over the long term and help ensure its stability and growth. Aviation more than ever is focused on ways to reduce emissions and improve air quality while simultaneously meeting the growing demand for air travel.

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