“We don’t see any decrease in traffic by 2050,” said Denis Huet, Head of Aviation Intelligence. “We see an increase in fast train services and some individual States could be impacted by social pressure to reduce flights but overall, on a European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) level, we see demand for air travel continuing to rise.”
The report considers the environmental consequences of this. It predicts long-haul flights will continue to be the major source of CO2 emissions. Revolutionary fleet renewal (using electric or hydrogen propulsion) represents 2% of the 279 million tonnes of CO2 emissions savings required to meet the net zero target therefore the remaining required reduction in CO2 emissions will have to come from greater use of SAFs, ATM and operational improvements and out-of-sector measures.
Another key finding is that a relative contribution of eight per cent reduction in CO2 in 2030 to achieve the 2030 target will be possible through improved air traffic management (ATM) and airline operations, say the forecasters.
“This is an important short-term benefit which doesn’t require us to wait for new aircraft technology,” said Marylin Bastin, Head of Aviation Sustainability at EUROCONTROL and one of the authors of the report. There is currently a “pool” of fuel inefficiency in the ATM network of around 8.6%-11.2%, according to EUROCONTROL’s December 2021 Environmental Assessment: European ATM Network Fuel Inefficiency Study. This shows that all ATM actors also have a role to play to achieve net zero emission and this work can be achieved on shorter terms compared to other decarbonisation measures.
“The Network Manager together with the ATM stakeholders have improved fuel efficiency by 5% in 2020 over the crisis period by getting rid of network constraints (RAD),” said Marylin Bastin. “At the same time, it’s also important to work on capacity and to find synergies between capacity and environment as it doesn’t make sense to optimise trajectories if we then have several minutes of holding time at the airport."
One of the major challenges is for all stakeholders to agree on the definition of an optimal flight trajectory and to balance the trade-offs between environmental protection, delays and cost. A solution could be to further explore the concepts of enhanced Demand Capacity Balance (DCB) and trajectory brokering.
One of the biggest challenges facing the forecasters is to develop reliable forecasts at a time of unprecedented political, economic and industrial volatility. The forecast takes into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and predicts a slow growth rate when the pre-pandemic traffic levels are reached. But the longer-term impacts of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine have not been outlined, though will be absorbed within the bands of high- and low-demand bands, say the report authors.
“COVID-19 broke the link between economic growth and demand for air travel, but it is on the mend, even if in the future demand will increase more slowly,” said Denis Huet.
One conclusion of the report is somewhat counter-intuitive: the faster the industry grows the faster it will be able to decarbonise. “If the business is healthy, airlines have more capabilities to invest in environmental-saving technologies,” according to Marylin Bastin. In the optimistic “high-growth” scenario CO2 emissions (net of SAF, fleet and operational improvements) are reduced by about 65% compared to 2005 levels. In the “base” and most likely scenario the improvement is only 41%.