Working together to ensure a sustainable future for uk aviation

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In the UK aviation sector we have long recognised that ensuring a sustainable future for UK aviation necessitates a collective and long term strategy. That is why ten years ago UK airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers got together to form Sustainable Aviation, our joint commitment to work together to make aviation cleaner, quieter and smarter.

We have done a lot together over the past decade and later this autumn we will be publishing a progress report setting out what we have achieved so far and what remains to be done.

Our members are rightly proud of what they have achieved to date, but they also know that getting more results will require support from politicians. That is why this autumn we are taking our message to party activists and politicians in Bournemouth, Brighton, Manchester and Aberdeen.

We are keen to explain what we have done, to listen to the views of others and to set out how government can help with our endeavours.

It is a huge and complex area, but in this blog I want to focus on three practical steps that the Government can take that would make a real difference.

Firstly, the greatest opportunity to reduce aviation noise output is through the design and introduction of new aircraft and engines. That is why it is vitally important that the Government sustains its support for aerospace research and development, through the Aerospace Technology Institute, which works with the aerospace industry and government stakeholders to deliver innovation. Aircraft designs today are 75% quieter than they were 50 years ago. Continued investment in Research and Development, focused on further design improvements, offers the potential to build on this success and reduce noise from aircraft by a further 65% by 2050. With a sustained and clear commitment by the Government, the UK will have the potential to be a true world leader in aviation noise reduction.

Secondly, sustainable aviation fuels (advanced biofuels which deliver high CO2 savings) also have the potential to deliver substantial economic and environmental benefits to the UK – but we are in danger of losing out to other countries that have prioritised and incentivised developments in the sustainable fuels market. To seize the full potential of sustainable fuels, enabling scale-up in their use, the Government should help to de-risk investment by under-writing risk and ensuring long term policy stability.

Thirdly, we need Government support to enable airspace change to realise noise reductions for people living near airports. Keeping aircraft higher for longer cuts noise on the ground. More flexible use of airspace can help aircraft to avoid areas where people live or provide respite to areas currently overflown. This work will also enable further CO2 savings, especially in the streamlining of higher level airspace corridors across the UK and Europe. Getting it right could reduce CO2 emissions from UK aviation by a further 10% by 2050. To enable all the operational improvements, such as steeper approaches, will require changes to airspace and operational controls. So we want the Government to make these changes and to work with industry and local communities to ensure that these opportunities are delivered.

I very much hope that this year’s party conference season will give us a big opportunity to win support for these policy goals, which, taken together, could transform the prospects for an environmentally responsible and economically successful UK aviation sector.

 Dr Andy Jefferson is Programme Director of Sustainable Aviation.