Updated: Mar 26, 2021
This problem statement combines my old line of work (Airbus ✈️💚) and current all-in on ClimateTech & Sustainability, so I thought i'll take a stab! Post-pandemic there's going to be an explosion of repressed air travel again, and while a lot of wfh & hybrid systems will stay, vacation and key-business travel is definitely coming back strong. How does that tie-in with our fight against the climate crisis? And how can we build systems to mitigate, capture or adapt to aviation's contribution ~2% of all carbon emissions?
I think there's 3 main supply side innovations that'll make a dent, and 3 on the demand side!
Hybrid and electric aircraft under development ~ Timescales are longgg ~ commercialization for Airbus' hybrid is expected around 2035 : https://www.airbus.com/innovation/zero-emission/electric-flight.html . Additionally there's newer companies like ZeroAvia making smaller all-electric aircraft. Mass civil aviation adoption timelines for electric and hybrid ~ i don't know but i'm guessing beyond 2035
Biofuels for existing aircraft ~ Embraer in Brazil has been pioneering blended fuel feedstock in its aircraft for years. Spicejet Airlines tried this in India in 2018 on a Bombardier Q400 and reduced carbon emissions by 15%, using 350 kilograms of biomass in its fuel blend. Is still expensive and not commercialised. This is really only going to take off if the govt. boosts production of and adoption of biofuel blends for India's airlines. Then you and i can fly lower carbon emissions flights
Airlines do better route planning with fewer flights. Literally based on temperature, humidity, etc. For weight and efficiency of each flight specifically to reduce carbon emissions. I highly doubt this one cause the economics for civil flights are brutal enough as it is (but i could be wrong!)
While booking your flight, look at the carbon footprint of your flight and add it into your own decision calculus. Why can't carbon be as much of a lever as price for choosing to buy or use the product? True cost labelling is showing up on consumer products (like Unilever's), why not all flights and routes? Measure your flight's here - https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Carbonoffset/Pages/default.aspx
Offset those emissions (grey areas solution and debatably feel good solution) with a tool that let's you buy offsets for your flight with an equivalent project somewhere in the world - https://co2.myclimate.org/en/flight_calculators/new
Demand that your airline has a legit (not greenwashed) sustainability agenda. They may not be able to remove all their carbon footprint today, but if they're stepping up and being stakeholders in other ways (carbon neutrality projects, water positivity, waste circularity, etc) that's a good start! It's intention AND action demonstrating that they're on board for a Future of cleaner and better air travel.
Here's a DW documentary I love about the future of aviation: