By Jon Ross
New planes, reduced emissions
In July, Boeing made a quick fix to its new aircraft forecast, delivered last year and meant to predict the world’s demand for new airliners across the next two decades. Raising its prediction by slightly more than 4 percent, Boeing said there will need to be just north of 39,600 new planes to satisfy the demands of the world’s airlines.
While the change in numbers is being prompted primarily by an anticipated uptick in passenger activity, Boeing noted that 930 new freighters and 1,440 converted freighters will be needed. In an October 2014 forecast, which predicted air cargo traffic growing at an annual rate of 4.7 percent through 2033, Boeing said 840 new freighters and 1,330 passenger conversions would be required. Despite this uptick, the company sees a slower air cargo growth rate—4.2 percent per year.
While the largest number of new planes will be headed to Asia, Boeing said more than 8,300 planes will be used in North America.
Cathay Pacific is already seeing increased freighter demand in North America. Around the same time as the Boeing forecast adjustment, Cathay Pacific officials unveiled a new Hong Kong-to-Portland, Ore. routing that will be serviced by a Boeing 747-8 freighter. The twice-weekly offering will start Nov. 3.
“The service will meet growing demand to move a wide range of commodities from the Pacific Northwest and the United States to various parts of Asia, providing shippers with greater choice and flexibility when connecting to Cathay Pacific’s international cargo network through the Hong Kong hub,” according to a company statement.
The company views the move as a “natural extension” of its North American cargo offerings. According to the company, it currently has 18 cargo stations across North and South America.
While freighter offerings in North America could ramp up over the next few years—the International Air Transport Association found North American carriers saw a 4.3 percent uptick in demand in June—the airline industry may finally be facing some additional emissions regulations, which new aircraft could help solve.
Airline emissions have seemingly been a focus of intense international deliberation for at least a decade, and the quest for a more sustainable industry grabbed the spotlight when fuel costs soared a few years ago. But reports out of Washington say President Obama is focused on creating a greener aviation future and is doing all he can to curb airline emissions before he leaves his office in January.
To that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published a final rule on airline greenhouse gas emissions, finding that emissions endanger public health. While the EPA won’t be issuing standards or regulations, it makes the end game for the industry clearer; these requirements will be coming down the pike once the International Civil Aviation Organization adopts emissions standards during its next meeting. According to the ICAO, “The rulemaking process for aircraft GHG emissions will provide opportunities for industry, NGOs and other interested parties to provide their input through public review and comment.”
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the EPA’s finding is a big step in the right direction, but it’s just the first piece of the puzzle.
“Given the enormous growth slated for this industry, we need both more efficient engines and an agreement to cap the total climate pollution from international civil aviation worldwide,” EDF said in a statement. “Securing a robust agreement in ICAO will be a key part of President Obama’s legacy on climate change.”
For advocates of airline emissions reduction, the EPA’s recent move doesn’t really do anything. These groups won’t be satisfied until they see actual regulations, which could take some time to develop.
Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the EPA’s acknowledgement is a little hollow.
“EPA officials finally acknowledged airplane pollution’s obvious climate threat, but they’re still not actually cutting the airline industry’s skyrocketing emissions,” Pardee said. “After nearly a decade of denial and delay, we need fast, effective EPA action. The Obama administration must quickly devise ambitious aircraft pollution rules that dramatically reduce this high-flying hazard to our climate.”
According to Reuters, ICAO and its proponents had hoped to make the emissions rules mandatory, but an opt-in scenario might be the best way to move toward a more sustainable airline industry.
In an exit interview with IATA’s member publication, outgoing head Tony Tyler expressed optimism in the airlines’ emissions reduction quest, an endeavor that predated his move into the organization.
“The long-term goal is to cut emissions to half 2005 levels by 2050. I would bet that sustainable alternative fuels for aviation will play a role,” he said. “But 2050 is 34 years in the future. And if you look at how far we have come in the past 34 years, I am sure it is an achievable goal.”