Understanding aviation’s real environmental cost

Jon Lawson

A new project called the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) aims to quantify the climate damage caused by the industry by designing an interactive evidence-based simulator to explore different scenarios. It seeks to cover the whole sector, including the sources of renewable electricity and raw materials, the creation and transport of fuel, and the impact of new technology.

The mission is led by the Whittle Laboratory and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Professor Rob Miller, a director at the former, observed, “Achieving an aviation sector with no climate impact is one of society’s biggest challenges. Solving it will require a complex combination of technology, business, human behaviour and policy. We have assembled a world-class team of academics and industry experts to take on this challenge.”

Other team members include the Air Transportation Systems Lab at University College London and the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne. The AIA partnered with HRH The Prince of Wales’s Sustainable Markets Initiative, The World Economic Forum, Cambridge Zero, MathWorks and SATAVIA, and is supported by industry players Rolls-Royce, Boeing, BP, Heathrow and Siemens Energy.

The simulator will model future scenarios to 2050 and calculate the resource requirements, including renewable electricity and land use, the climate impact, both CO2 and non-CO2, and the cost of flying. John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport noted, “The Aviation Impact Accelerator will play a vital role in highlighting the action required to achieve net zero aviation and support Heathrow to ensure 2019 is our year of ‘peak carbon’. The first priority is accelerated use of sustainable aviation fuel. Government can act to unlock SAF through a mandate stimulating supply, plus incentives to drive demand. The prize is a new British growth industry and UK leadership in the race to net zero.”

Its official launch will be at the COP26 hosted in Scotland in November.

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