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Airline Industry Calls for a 'Zero-Emissions' Future

In a presentation at the International Air Transport Association's annual meeting here, Giovanni Bisignani, the IATA's CEO, urged the industry to embrace environmentally friendly practices and issued four challenges to drive the industry towards a vision of zero emissions.

Bisignani cited a litany of improvements in recent decades: reducing noise by 75 percent, eliminating soot and increasing fuel efficiency by 70 percent. But even those, coupled with new aircraft that he said will make airplane fleets 25 percent more fuel efficient by 2020, is not enough.

"But a growing carbon footprint is no longer politically acceptable—for any industry," Bisignani said. "Climate change will limit our future unless we change our approach from technical to strategic. Air transport must aim to become an industry that does not pollute—zero emissions."

The first of the four challenges he posed to the industry is air traffic management's 12 percent inefficiency. By eliminating that deficit, the industry will immediately save 35 million tonnes of CO2. Bisignani proposed three "mega-projects" to achieve the goal: a Single Sky for Europe, an efficient Pearl River Delta in China and a next generation air traffic system in the U.S.

Technology also plays a large role in reaching an emissions-free future. In addition to adopting clean fuel over the next decade and developing "carbon-free fuel from renewable energy sources," Bisignani urged the development of a zero-emissions airplane by 2057. But Boeing, one of the aerospace companies that would be responsible for creating that plane, says the goal is both too specific and too far off, saying instead that a more near-term and industry-wide focus is needed.

"Fifty years is a long time," Mike Cave, vice president of business strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told the Seattle times. "Do we have a vision today for what technology will bring us to a zero-emissions airplane? We don't."

The final two challenges posed to the air industry are creating a global emissions-trading scheme, which Bisignani said should be fair, effective and voluntary for all governments; and implementing environmental management systems that make use of the latest, global best practices.

"This will not be achieved overnight. And nobody has all the answers," Bisignani said. "But the airline industry was born by realising a dream that people could fly. We can already see the potential building blocks for a carbon-free future: fuel cell technology, solar powered aircraft and fuel made from biomass. By working together with a common vision, a green industry is absolutely achievable."

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