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European aviation: environmental report points to action to address sustainability and health challenges

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Attendees at the official launch event of the European Aviation Environmental Report 2019.

Today marks the launch of the second edition of the European Aviation Environmental Report (EAER), a key document on the overall environmental performance of the aviation sector. Prepared and published by EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the EAER draws on close collaboration with EUROCONTROL and with the European Environment Agency (EEA). 

The launch ceremony in downtown Brussels saw Philippe Merlo, Director European Civil Military Aviation at EUROCONTROL, represent the Agency, alongside European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, Filip Cornelis, Director DG MOVE at the European Commission, and Stephen Arrowsmith, Chief Environmental Protection at EASA.

The EAER reveals that the solutions currently deployed at EU level are enabling improvements to the sustainability of aviation in Europe, namely in terms of noise per flight or fuel consumption per passenger. However, with air traffic set to further increase in the years to come, the environmental footprint of the sector in Europe will continue to increase - i.e. greenhouse gas emissions, localised air pollution and total number of people affected by noise. The sector's contribution to the fight against climate change will require its full commitment to invest in solutions towards the decarbonisation of aviation, working towards the EU's 2050 decarbonisation vision. The report underlines the necessity of agreeing on effective and robust global measures for international aviation to tackle climate change and duly contribute towards the temperature goals agreed under the Paris Agreement.

For Eamonn Brennan, Director General EUROCONTROL, "The findings of this report are compelling. Without even more action by our industry and policy makers, the environmental impact is simply going to keep on growing. Despite aviation’s huge commitment over many years to reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise, traffic growth continues to make the environmental impacts of aviation even more challenging. Traffic across Europe (EU and 12 other States) grew 3.8% last year, but CO2 emissions growth of 5.2% outpaced it. Noise remains a constant point of contention for communities living around airports. The air traffic management network is delivering more capacity, but less efficiently than we need it to. Despite all of this, the public increasingly wants to benefit from the connectivity that aviation uniquely delivers. We at EUROCONTROL will continue working with our partners to find solutions to these challenges to deliver a sustainable aviation system over the long term."

Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport said: "As Europeans we must continue to pioneer the battle against climate change. This new report shows that our joint actions are working: we have reduced fuel burn and noise per flight; investments have delivered more efficient technologies; airports are becoming carbon neutral, and finally we are starting to implement the first-ever global scheme to offset CO2 emissions!"

The EAER does highlight a concrete challenge for all actors, as Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of EEA, emphasises: "The current trends and outlooks in aviation are not compatible with protecting the environment, climate and people’s health. Europe must lead the way towards a more sustainable aviation sector at home and abroad. Strong policies and robust implementation can mitigate future impacts of a growing sector as well as foster innovation and the fundamental shift needed in consumer behaviour.”

The need for policy action is also underlined by Patrick Ky, EASA Executive Director: "We need concrete and effective action to reduce aviation emissions over the next 10 years in order to support the Paris Agreement objectives and mitigate climate change. The aviation sector must play its part in this global effort. Addressing noise and air quality issues at a local level are also critical. Since EASA’s rules and our competencies with regard to environment have been further strengthened by the European Union, EASA now plays a leading role in actively developing and implementing measures to address these challenges in cooperation with our partner."

The report includes key performance indicators, showing the evolution of noise, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from aviation over several years. It also provides an indication of future levels of noise and emissions, according to different scenarios, and depending on the progress achieved through technology deployment.

Producing the EAER involves draws on many inputs from EUROCONTROL experts, drawing on the Agency’s unparalleled aviation expertise, and forms a key deliverable in the Agency’s Joint Work Programme with EASA. Andrew Watt, Head of Environment at EUROCONTROL, notes that “over the last 18 months, we brought around the table experts in environment, forecasting, airports, airspace design and cartography, and a whole variety of unique EUROCONTROL data sources. In particular, our forecasting colleagues from STATFOR were heavily involved, because the EAER is based on the same data and long-term outlook as last year’s Challenges of Growth study. And we had tremendous cooperation with EASA and EEA experts, as well as valuable inputs from the European Commission – DG’s CLIMA, MOVE and ENV plus the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission's science and knowledge service. We all worked closely with industry stakeholders in a series of consultations to review our findings and allow them to express their views.”

The first edition of the EAER was released in early 2016, and the third EAER should be issued in 2022. Among the developing trends covered in the report is the potential of different technologies currently being developed through EU and industry initiatives such as SESAR and Clean Sky, to improve the environmental performance of aviation.

Future trends to assess in the next report are likely to be the impact of sustainable fuels and electrified, or hybrid, aircraft. “Sustainable fuels are for now underused but offer considerable potential for reducing carbon emissions”, notes Andrew Watt, “while the impact of electrified aircraft could cut emissions radically if increasing numbers enter airline fleets. Not only will it be challenging for EUROCONTROL’s traffic and environmental modellers to forecast the impact of both alternative fuels and electrified aircraft on the fleet and the environment, but from an air traffic control perspective, electrified aircraft may have very different performance characteristics. Integrating them into an ATM system possibly peaking at 45-50,000 movements per day across the EUROCONTROL network will pose a significant challenge for the future”.

Learn more in the full report