Airlines see green upside to economic downturn

Aviation carbon emissions should decrease by 8 percent in 2009, due in part to a reduction in flights, while biofuels are likely to be approved by 2011.

Biofuels are on the way up, while carbon emissions are on the way down, a global airline industry spokesman said Tuesday at the annual Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva.

After a successful run of pilot programs from Continental, Virgin,Air New Zealand, and JAL, sustainable biofuels are on track to be approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for wide commercial use in planes by 2010 or 2011, Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the IATA, said in a speech given at the summit.

IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani
IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani IATA

The IATA includes more than 230 airlines that make up about 93 percent of the world's airline traffic.

"Biofuels may even hold the promise of improved fuel efficiency on top of the potential to reduce emissions by up to 80 percent over the lifecycle of the fuel," said Bisignani.

He also had a positive spin to share on the fact that airlines have had to reduce flights due to a decrease in cargo and passenger demand throughout this economic downturn. The IATA expects to see a 7.8 percent drop in aviation carbon emissions for 2009.

Six percent will be due to a decrease in the number of cargo and passenger flights, while 1.8 is related to technology, operations, and infrastructure improvements, according to IATA figures.

Bisignani said governments of the world should focus on "replacing the growing patchwork of green taxes, charges, and emissions trading proposals" aimed at airlines with a more comprehensive system that takes into account that aviation carbon emissions contribute about two percent of the world's annual manmade carbon emissions.

The funds sponsoring environmental projects, as well as the degree to which airlines are held responsible for carbon emissions, should both proportionately reflect the two percent figure, according to Bisignani.

"We have a responsibility to secure the future of the 32 million jobs and $3.5 trillion in economic activity dependent on aviation. We need global leadership that unites industry and governments with the common purpose of reducing emissions," he said.

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