If you have ever been near an airport as jetliners are forced against their will to reach speeds that can sustain flight, you have watched the black remnants of burned fuel pour from their engines. You have heard the roar of those jets as they blasted through the atmosphere.
Maybe you have be started by the boom from a supersonic jet soared by somewhere overhead. You have witnessed some of the impact that aviation has on the environment. While no one can know all of the far-reaching effects of aviation on the environment, some relatively obvious ones come to mind.
Manufacturing all of those airplanes and jets creates its own problems.
The environment is affected by aviation as soon as the metal begins to pulled from the earth. The carbon footprint starts with the first internal combustion engine that is used to drive earth moving equipment. Exhaust from the equipment begins a chain of hydrocarbon pollutants steaming into the sky. The earth, including animals and plants, is disrupted and destroyed by the mining operation. Not only is the metal mined, but so is the fuel to run the equipment and the smelter. The pollution could even be pushed downward to the vehicles that bring the workers to the job each day.
Airplanes and jets use a lot of plastic. This means more manufacturing pollution. Plastic is made from petroleum that further depletes the world’s oil supply. At the end of its life, all of that plastic has to be put somewhere until its 100 year or longer existence comes to an end.
Airports take a toll on farm land and wildlife.
Generally, airports have to be built on relatively flat land. The miles of runways required to give jets adequate room to land and take off eats away hundreds perhaps thousands of acres of ground for each major airport. This land is taken from the pool of farm land. By laying down high grade landing surfaces, this land is taken out of service for food production for a long long time.
Additionally, the concrete and asphalt surfaces remove the animal habitat for the area. The hard surfaces assure that no food will remain for wildlife that might have previously thrived in the area. Migration trails are often severed. As evidenced by collisions of jets and planes with birds both large and small, it is always planes first wildlife second.
Jet contrails and the ozone layer.
Looking up at the sky on an almost clear day, you can see jet contrails lacing across the sky. While they can be beautiful to see, all of that exhaust from those jets is pollution left behind as the jet rips through the air. Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, but when deposited into the jet stream, it also works to reduce ozone in the atmosphere. It is the ozone that shields human skin from many of the harmful effects of solar radiation. A thinner ozone layer means more skin cancers and eye problems on the earth.
Air travel creates noise pollution.
Angry residents always come out of the woodwork when airport expansion is discussed. Most of them do not come to complain about losing their homes to the expansion. Most come to express their concern about the increased noise levels in the neighborhood. While almost all airports have mandates that prevent jets from flying too low over heavily populated areas, the noise level within several miles of a major airport is always very high. Living near a busy airport can be as loud as a freight train going through your back yard.
There are various other aviation driven environmental impacts.
Chunks of ice fall to the earth from jet waste disposal systems. Most of the time these blue ice balls hit the earth harmlessly. People are rarely aware of their existence until they crash through a roof or hit a car. Depositing this waste across a continent or into the ocean is just one more pollutant that aviation produces.
Old jets are never completely recycled. Their hulks are buried or left to litter some open space. These are not only unsightly, but ultimately put various pollutants from the airplane or jet into the ground where they settle.
When a jet has difficulty heading in to a landing, jet fuel is often dumped out of the tanks to lessen the risk of explosion and fire. This fuel is a toxic environmental hazard. While this is rare, it does happen. Efforts are made to clean it up when possible, but the trees, streams, and wildlife affected cannot all be cleaned.
Aviation has accelerated the process of disease migration around the world. Instead of taking months to spread, diseases like the flu can now circle the globe within days or weeks. The Centers for Disease Control release warning from time to time about the danger of extended flights concentrating air borne pathogens. This essentially turns a transcontinental flight into a disease incubator.