EUROCONTROL Aviation Outlook 2050

Main report
EUROCONTROL Aviation Outlook 2050
EUROCONTROL Aviation Outlook 2050

This EUROCONTROL Aviation Outlook looks out to 2050, much further than previous forecasts and in line with aviation’s objective of achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by that date.

"For the first time, this report includes estimates of net CO2 emissions, it provides a real insight into how aviation can move towards the target of net-zero by 2050. This challenging objective is achievable but it will not be easy – requiring coordinated action by aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airports, fuel companies, ANSPs and, crucially, governments and regulators."

It takes into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and, even after aviation has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, it expects growth to be slower than previously forecasted. The impacts of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine on aviation have not been specifically included in this report. However, even if geopolitical tensions look set to remain, it is more on a medium-term horizon than on a long-term one.

The most-likely scenario shows 16 million flights in 2050. Other possible scenarios (resulting in 19.6 million flights and 13.2 million flights by 2050) are also discussed.

ECAC IFR flights
2019 2050 2050/2019
Total
(million)
Avg. daily
(thousands)
Total
(million)
Avg. daily
(thousands)
Extra flights/day
(thousands)
Total
growth
AAGR
High scenario 11.1 30.4 19.6 53.6 23.2 +76% +1.8%
Base scenario 16.0 43.7 13.4 +44% +1.2%
Low scenario 13.2 36.2 5.8 +19% +0.6%

The most-likely flight forecast is 10 years behind the previous EUROCONTROL long-term forecast, putting it between the two lower-growth scenarios of the “Challenges of Growth” study from 2018.

This report also reflects the fact that, while airport capacity in Europe still constrains growth to some degree, sustainability is expected to become a more significant factor influencing the future of the aviation market. This is the first time that we have published an integrated forecast of flights and CO2.

The principal ways by which aviation will become more sustainable (and their respective relative contribution in 2050 to the ‘most likely’ scenario) are:

  • evolutionary improvements to aircraft and engines, making them more efficient (17%),
  • revolutionary new aircraft technologies, such as the deployment of electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft, together with the required infrastructure (2%),
  • more efficient flights, thanks to operational improvements such as improved air traffic management and aircraft operations (8%);
  • gradually increasing use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF, 41%).
EAO 2050 - estimated CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2050

The range of scenarios reflect the fact that, if aviation is stronger, then it is better able to invest in more efficient technologies. However even in our most ambitious High scenario, 2050 is too soon to have completed the introduction of many revolutionary new aircraft, complete with their fuelling and charging infrastructure. It also reflects the fact that those technologies still seem likely to be best for shorter- rather than longer-haul travel. The CO2 improvements by then, therefore, remain modest (2%-3% in 2050): industry and regulators will need to find ways to boost investment to improve on this. As other studies have found, the final step to reaching net-zero CO2 therefore needs ‘out of sector’ measures such as carbon capture.

No single solution will enable aviation to achieve net-zero CO2, but in all three scenarios here, it is the scaling up of the production, distribution and use of SAF that makes the largest contribution in the long term, with operational improvements helping more immediately. This report will be complemented by EUROCONTROL Objective Skygreen, looking in much more detail at the elements leading to cutting CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Aviation can do, and is doing, much to achieve its 2050 target of net-zero CO2. In our scenarios, lower growth goes together with lower investment, resulting in worse CO2 performance. The most sustainable outcomes require the aviation industry to work with governments to ensure that the right investments and suitable regulations can be and are being made, within aviation and beyond.

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EUROCONTROL Aviation Outlook 2050 - main report