Paving the way for a greener future: Key EUROCONTROL contributions in new ICAO environmental report on aviation

ICAO environment report - image

New must-read ICAO Environmental Report consolidates all the progress that the international aviation community has made in environmental protection over the past three years, with a range of topical case studies, four of which – on ASBU environmental benefits, global horizontal flight efficiency, CCO/CDO operations and climate adaptation – have been authored/co-authored by EUROCONTROL’s environmental experts.

The aviation industry needs to achieve environmental sustainability if it is to grow – in particular to address the sector’s growing share of CO2 emissions and mitigate the local impact of aircraft noise nuisance and detrimental effect on air quality.

ICAO’s new Environmental Report consolidates the progress that the international aviation community has made in environmental protection over the past three years – “an unprecedented effort driven by key decisions from ICAO Member States, technological developments and societal expectations”, Jane Hupe, Deputy Director of Environment at ICAO, emphasises.

The centrepiece of efforts is the 2016 adoption of CORSIA, the carbon offsetting and reduced scheme for international aviation which introduced the first-ever global market-based measure for aviation, leading Member States to commit to the aspirational goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020.

As the report underlines, CORSIA is just one of aviation’s basket of measures to address aviation sustainability, alongside improved technology, operations and infrastructure, as well as sustainable fuels.

The report provides a unique collection of articles and case studies designed to raise awareness of the work that the global aviation community has been doing in addressing the industry’s environmental impact.

At EUROCONTROL, we have been playing a very active role in mitigating aviation’s impact on the environment for many years now, putting our expertise, tools and data at the service of Member States, the European Union, ICAO and the wider aviation community.

Our environment related activities are wide-ranging and focus on:

  • pushing for operational improvements across the European aviation network, both in the air and on the ground
  • running noise and local air quality assessments for stakeholders
  • carrying out climate-change risk assessments and developing adaptation plans
  • actively participating in various ICAO and European environment-related fora, pushing the sustainability agenda forward.

For the report, our environmental experts have contributed to the following four articles alongside fellow experts from CANSO, the FAA, and skeyes, the Belgian ANSP.


Global ASBU environmental benefits assessment – to 2025

An analysis has been made of the environmental benefits resulting from the global implementation of operational concepts and initiatives, in the framework of ICAO’s Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBUs).

On the basis of data from States representing 92%+ of global traffic, it is estimated that the planned implementation of the operational improvements detailed in ASBU Blocks 0 and 1 should provide annual savings of approximately 5.4 – 10.7 million tons in fuel and 17.2-33.7 million tons of CO2 in 2025, compared with 2015. This represents potential annual fuel cost savings to airlines worth €2.9-5.6 billion per year.

Considering the increasing focus on mitigating aviation-related CO2 emissions, the assessment concludes that ICAO’s priority needs to be on implementation programmes that can be rapidly deployed, especially for those operational improvements that have been demonstrated to reduce fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

David Brain (EUROCONTROL) and Nico Voorbach (CANSO)

Global horizontal flight efficiency analysis

Enabling aircraft to fly their optimum horizontal path from departure to destination at the most fuel efficient flight level can help reduce the climate change impact of aviation.

Over the last 20 years, various attempts to identify the base case for flight efficiency have been undertaken. Following the arrival of new sources of surveillance data, such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), together with modern flight tracker websites with global coverage, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environment Protection (CAEP), in 2018, undertook the first truly global horizontal flight efficiency study using a single harmonised surveillance data source, ADS-B.

The results of the study reveal that the horizontal flight efficiency levels in the different ICAO regions in 2017 varied between 94% and 98%.

David Brain (EUROCONTROL) and Marylin Bastin (skeyes)

The benefits of CCO/CDO operations – European task force findings

Continuous climb and descent operations (CCOs and CDOs) are aircraft operating techniques which offer potential for major environmental and fuel-burn improvements.

Enabled by airspace design and procedure design, they are the optimal climb and descent procedures to be followed in unrestricted airspace for all aircraft, from a 500-ton Airbus A380 to the smallest single seater light aircraft.

EUROCONTROL, together with its industry stakeholders, has championed CDO implementation over the years. However, a step change is needed to ensure that the benefits available from optimised climb and descent profiles are realised.

In 2015, EUROCONTROL set up the European CCO/CDO Task Force to develop a harmonised definition, metric and parameters for CCO/CDO measurement to enable a harmonised performance measurement across Europe. In a 2018 EUROCONTROL study, the task force estimated that benefits derived from optimising CCO/CDO could result in fuel savings of up to 350,000 tonnes of fuel per year for the airlines (1 million tonnes+ of CO2), representing approximately €150 million in savings.

The Task Force is now highlighting stakeholder responsibilities and best practices in order to enable significant benefits to be realised.

Rachel Burbidge (EUROCONTROL) and Andrea Freeburg (US FAA)

Climate adaptation synthesis

The climate adaptation synthesis article brings together existing information, including EUROCONTROL’s own analyses and reports, on projected climate impacts for the aviation sector so as to better understand the potential risks to planning, infrastructure and operations. 

It considers effects on local, regional and global levels and offers examples of adaptation and resilience measures that may reduce associated risks. It also presents the results of a survey of ICAO States and member organisations, in which they were asked whether and when they expect to be affected by climate change, and whether they are taking any measures to adapt and build resilience to any potential impact.

One of the key findings of the synthesis was that 65% of survey respondents are already experiencing climate change, and no respondents indicated that they did not expect to be affected. This suggests that climate change impacts are a tangible risk for most of the survey respondents.

Of the nine impact categories included in the survey, the three that survey respondents expect to be most affected by are:

  • higher than average and extreme temperatures
  • changing precipitation
  • increased intensity of storms.

To the full ICAO 2019 Environment Report