The industry rebuild must have sustainability at its core.

Sponsored by: CAA International

Aviation must emerge from the crisis stronger than before. Safety, efficiency, and sustainability must all improve as the industry strives to rebuild value for individuals and economies worldwide.

Though sustainability has always played a crucial role in aviation growth, there is little doubt that the pressure on the industry to reduce emissions and noise is increasing. A cultural shift is becoming ever more evident in consumer behavior. Consumers are aware of the climate change debate and making informed decisions about their purchases.

The most obvious area of concern is carbon emissions, and the industry has long been working to bring these down, with the ultimate aim of zero emissions. But it is noise that will be particularly troublesome in the short term.

“For more than a year, planes have been grounded,” says Asimina Voskaki, Senior Manager Environment, International Development at CAA International, the technical cooperation and training arm of the UK Civil Aviation Authority. “People, especially around airports, have become used to very low levels of noise. The industry restart will highlight this problem. In effect, any noise will be compared with almost total silence in the skies.”

As the need for effective noise management has never been greater, CAA International runs two virtual training courses on Noise Management and Noise Modelling to help organizations gain a deeper understanding of this problem and build the competencies to develop effective noise management strategies. 

“Environmental management must include a complete assessment of the impact,” says Voskaki. “There are often interdependencies and trade-offs and some problems will evolve over time. You must deal with the reality of the situation. That might mean a different solution today to ensure organizations have the ability to invest in targeted environmental mitigation in the future.”

Skill gaps do exist, as the ICAO Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) scheme has illustrated. CORSIA will enable the aviation sector to mitigate its environmental impact through carbon offsetting but the implementation of the scheme requires a high level of knowledge that is not necessarily inherent in the industry or the national aviation authorities.

Indeed, Voskaki says retraining existing employees and hiring new talent will be critical to putting sustainability at aviation’s core. Fortunately, the industry is a powerful brand and working to further its environmental aspirations can be a rewarding experience.

An environmental specialist can be involved in a range of areas, from consulting, research and modelling to managing offsets and designing new tools. “There are so many opportunities, it is a really interesting proposition,” Voskaki suggests.

One area that is seldom mentioned in relation to aviation’s environmental work is the prospect of climate change profoundly affecting the sector rather than vice versa. Aviation would be directly influenced by climate change, and particularly climate extremes. There is a clear risk factor involved that will affect safety, capacity and efficiency, environmental performance, and ultimately demand. The aviation sector must understand the potential disruption and be prepared for climate resilience as a result.

“These are challenging times but there is a chance to restart,” says Voskaki. “Getting a thorough education in environmental matters will help that restart.”

All aviation stakeholders must not only have a sustainable, forward-looking strategy but also must pursue collaboration wherever possible. The CAA International course on Aviation and the Environment explores this in detail, says Voskaki.

“It is impossible to tackle climate change on an individual basis,” she says. “CORSIA again provides an example. There are regional differences and knowledge has to be passed along the aviation value chain for everyone to benefit.”

Governments must play their part in supporting efforts where necessary. Efficiency improvements are promising, and sustainable aviation fuels have been proven to work. But the latter needs further commercialization to bring the price down.

A higher level of collaboration will also allow the industry to review its environmental targets and adjust them as necessary. There are ambitious targets in place including a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 compared with 2005 but this is a fast-moving sector and the clamor for net zero emissions is already apparent.

“And that again shows the need for training,” concludes Voskaki. “It keeps participants up-to-date with the latest thinking and it allows them to devise credible delivery plans for industry targets. Targets may become tougher, but delivery mechanisms will also improve. Aviation and the environment is a vast topic that is constantly evolving.”