Impacts of Aviation on the Environment

The US Airways Airbus A320 that collided with a flock of birds and plunged into the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 was a small but tangible reminder of the negative impact of aviation on the environment.

Wildlife is just one piece of the picture. An additional issue is the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use that result in climate change, as well as the detriment of noise pollution on society.

In light of these concerns, the Air Transport Action Group ( maintains that aviation accounts for only two percent of the world’s manmade emissions of carbon dioxide. And, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to transportation, which is less than the output from the power and land use sectors and the same as emissions resulting from the agriculture sector.

What new developments are in process with regard to impacts on the environment? While passenger numbers continue to grow at approximately five percent a year, the aviation industry is working to further reduce the negative impacts of aviation on the environment through the use of technology and policy development.

One negative environmental impact that we wouldn’t necessarily think of is noise pollution, which is a real concern for communities with airports. In 2006, a new noise certification standard was introduced by the International Civil Aviation Organization to ensure that new aircraft are to be built at least ten decibels (or one third) quieter than aircrafts whose specifications adhered to the previous noise certification standard.

Following are additional developments, as provided on Air Transport Action Group’s web site:

* Modern aircraft is 70 percent more fuel-efficient than 40 years ago.

* Over the past 40 years, emissions of carbon monoxide from aviation have been reduced by 50%.

* Over the past 40 years, emissions of hydrocarbons from aviation have been reduced by 90%.

* Over the past 15 years, oxides of nitrogen from aircraft engines have been reduced by 50%.

* Aircraft and engine manufacturers devote up to 15% of turnover to research.

Clearly, the aviation industry is taking steps to reduce its footprint on the environment. With approximately 2.2 billion people traveling by air each year through over 3,750 airports, passengers can rest assured that their own impact on the environment is minimal (however, they can’t be sure that their plane won’t collide with a flock of birds!)

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