The Problem Regulations and Innovation Pose to Clean Air Transport
Trump’s electoral victory put in place a Republican administration that is slowly reversing decades of environmental policy meant to slow climate change. Instead, new regulations that threaten nature have been implemented against the will of a rising group of people who worry about global warming and its impact on the future. Citizens are more divided than ever about actions required to manage environmental protection. Scientists have been warning us for many years that temperatures on earth keep rising and that the effects of such a trend will not be pleasant for next generations. Not only can plants and animals not keep up with the speed of environmental changes, but Earth, as humans have restructured it, will also be confronted with serious challenges.
For the past few decades the media have been covering many stories about rising water levels, water pollution, extreme weathers, extreme temperatures and seasonal abnormalities. These events will intensely fluctuate in the coming years and not all regions will be faced with the same consequences. Those who will suffer the least continue to deny climate change and manipulate this reality to avoid responsibility.
Humans contribute to the increase of global warming every day, but no activity pushes individual emission levels to rise as fast as transportation. The environmental ecosystem can adapt itself to new circumstances, but the rapidly growing population of our planet (currently at 7.6 billion) makes it increasingly difficult to keep our system sustainable. Demand for comfort and luxury only increases with population growth.
In the past few hundred years the Earth’s population has been increasing exponentially with population growth concentrated in developing nations and emissions growth concentrated in the developed world. A city in a low-income nation emits less than one ton of CO2-equivalent per capita, whereas a city in a high-income nation can emit between 6 and 30 tons. As low-income nations industrialize they will produce more emissions in the future, especially in the transportation sector.
The transportation industry mitigates this reality through innovation , which explains the current boom in the electrification of our transportation systems. Countries started to impose rules to ban combustion engines in the future and to promote electric vehicles (EVs) . For driving to entirely transition to rely solely on energy from clean sources considering that current car technology has been in place for more than a century.
Occasionally, reports claim that we should not waste our time and resources on intermediate steps and rather move directly to a perfect clean solution. But aren’t incremental improvements better than no change at all? Nothing moves from 0 to 1 without a progressive learning and adoption curve. The electrification movement creates awareness and better solutions will arise from that, including improved energy storage – one of the biggest challenges for the energy turnaround. Inaction leads to excuses and postponements in a period where not much time is left to act.
The delay between cause and effect in climate change is estimated to be 40 years, meaning that future generations will suffer the most from today’s pollutions. So, the older generations currently producing policy and environmental protections will not suffer the consequences of climate change. They focus on short-term solutions within industry that boost economic growth, instead of remodelling industries around environmental needs as any long-term model must.
Regulations on Air Transport
Aside from the will to use cleaner transportation, people also want to move faster and more efficiently. In recent years, a new hype for air mobility has risen, flooding the news with concepts and designs of flying cars.Cities started to compete to become the first to launch a passenger service, which would lead everyone to believe that the future we know from science fiction is very near.
However, this has to be taken with a grain of salt, as it will still take some time for the regulations to be in place. Flying taxis will be more expensive than a regular taxi or Uber and should not be seen as a replacement for airplanes. The technology will only be feasible in congested urban areas where trips do not surpass a range of 50 -300 kilometers – depending on the concept.
Traveling with an airplane today is like taking a bus some decades ago. The infrastructure has changed significantly, making global transportation easy and secure. China alone intents to build 136 new airports by 2025 to manage the estimated global passenger growth of 3.6% annually over the next two decades. Making flights more accessible is obviously a positive development for passengers. However the ecological consequences are devastating. Emissions of civil aviation will rise and adoption of innovation, as seen in road transportation, will be slowed by the global regulations of The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible for finding consensus between industries and governments and subsequently issue guidelines. At this stage, the secure transportation of passengers is the highest priority, however, pollution from airplanes is receiving more attention than ever before.
Another hurdle for new regulations is the design or manufacturing cycle of an airplane. This manufacturing cycle lasts approximately 20 years, and the airplane will then be in service for another 25 years. This is a very long period, compared to the car industry, whose manufacturing cycle only lasts approximately 6 years, with 11 years in service. In road transportation, new developments can easily be implemented, allowing governments and other regulating organizations to push harder for eco-friendlier solutions.
We also need to consider the logistical challenges of aviation. An airplane carries all the energy required to reach its destination. Of course, road vehicles also need to carry fuel to drive from A to B, but an airplane has to lift that weight and hold it in the air. Consequently, the impact on energy consumption from additional weight in an airplane is significantly higher than that of a car or any other ground vehicle. This requires airplane technology to be lightweight. As of today, liquid fuels are the most efficient energy storage, with an energy density 50 times higher than present batteries, making the latter an infeasible solution for aviation. New hybrid concepts that combine electrical and jet fuel engines are in development, such as the latest announced joint project E-Fan X by Airbus, Siemens and Rolls Royce. The concept will be a new technology milestone for the industry, driving efficiency and progress to a fully electric airplane in the long term.
Similar to hybrid cars, the hybrid airplane will be powered by a jet fuel engine to produce electricity that is subsequently used to drive an electric fan creating the required thrust. A positive outcome of the E-Fan X study, anticipated for 2020, could lead to a new type of short range airplane within another decade.This is good news, however, progress in aviation takes time and reaching a market share that really allows for an impact from more efficient technologies will take even longer. The only valid short term solution is to use more sustainable fuels until a new concept powered by clean energy is ready for takeoff.
Environmental regulation, innovation, and thoughtful consumption are required to slow the global warming of our planet. More than ever individuals are needed to contribute to sustainable development through their decisions.