Future aviation growth to be limited to reach Government targets
December 10th, 2009 by elisa

Growth in aviation cannot exceed 60% if the UK is to meet the Government’s target that aircraft emissions in 2050 must not exceed 2005 levels. This is the finding of watchdog Committee on Climate Change which suggests that fuel efficiency and operational improvements are likely to result in a 30% reduction in carbon emissions per seat km flown.

The report finds that on a “business as usual” path, UK air passenger demand would grow over 200% by 2050, but the committee says that the future increase of flying must be limited to 60%.

“Faster technological improvements are possible, but unless and until they are achieved, it is not prudent to assume that demand increases of more than 60% are compatible with the target,” the report says.

Using rail rather than domestic and short haul flights is among the key suggestions being made to curb emissions.

Increased investment in aircraft technology research and development might make possible more rapid progress than currently likely, the committee says. The report finds that the use of biofuels in aviation is likely to be “technically and economically” viable, but it points to “significant uncertainties” over the level of sustainable biofuels available for use in aviation, for three reasons:

1) the land area and water resource required given increased food demand resulting from an increasing world population

2) technological uncertainty over the feasibility of biofuels production that does not require agricultural land (e.g. algae based )

3) other demands for biomass feed stocks to produce low-carbon energy (e.g. biofuels for HGVs, biomass power generation).

“It is therefore prudent to base current policy on the assumption that biofuels cannot account for more than 10% of the total aviation fuel mix in 2050,” the report warns.

The report highlights various options for reducing air travel demand:

A carbon price rising gradually to £200/tCO2 by 2050, combined with capacity constraints as envisaged in the 2003 Aviation White Paper (i.e. with addition of capacity at Edinburgh, Heathrow and Stansted but at no other airports) could limit demand growth to 115% by 2050.

High-speed rail has the potential to substitute for domestic and short haul flights to Europe; this could result in a 10% aviation demand reduction in 2050.

Video-conferencing technology is still at an early stage of development but by 2050 could substitute for up to 30% of business trips based on current best business practice.

“Clear additional policies will therefore be required to constrain passenger demand in the period to 2050,” the committee says.

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