The EU hopes that its Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) will help European aircraft manufacturers to compete in the race to build the world's cleanest planes. "The future expansion of aeronautics relies on its ability to reduce its environmental impact. Vast resources are needed and neither the EU, nor industry, nor scientists could achieve this on their own," said former EU Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik.
Alain Garcia, chairman of the integration team at ACARE, the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe, noted that current levels of research funding, both from national governments and the EU, fall considerably short of what is needed to tackle aviation emissions. More than €100 billion is required for the period 2000-2020 in order to ramp up clean investment in the sector, he said.
'Clean Sky' executive director Eric Dautriat believes the initiative can realistically be expected to deliver between 20% and 40% reductions in carbon emissions and noise pollution, depending on the type of aircraft concerned.
"Clean Sky is the operational arm for delivering the goals set by ACARE [to reduce carbon emissions and noise by 50% and nitrogen oxides by 80% by 2020 compared to 2000 levels] and will allow us, if not to reach these ambitious figures, to at least make some very essential steps forward," Dautriat said.
Marc Ventre, chairman of the Clean Sky JTI governing board and executive vice-president in charge of aerospace propulsion at French group Safran said in autumn 2009 that technical work on Clean Sky was well underway. "One year from now, we will have to make major technological choices, which will influence what tomorrow's aircraft look like."
"In five to seven years, there will be an impressive series of large-scale flight and ground demonstrations spanning the whole range of civil aircraft – mainline and regional aeroplanes, helicopters, business jets – along with their engines and systems," Ventre said.
Michel Laroche, chairman of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe's (ASD) research and technology commission and executive vice-president of research and technology at Safran, noted that funding under the EU's Research Framework Programme represents "a rather low proportion of the overall budget" dedicated to the aerospace sector, with the vast majority of funding coming from national programmes and private investment.
Laroche also argues that while the aerospace sector has adopted market-driven research, the EU's Research Framework Programme is "clearly more adapted to a curiosity-driven type of research".
He said the European Commission's complex legal requirements, set up to minimise legal risks, are undermining efficient implementation of the research programme and holding back Europe's efforts to meet ACARE's goals.
Kevin Morris, environment and sustainability manager at A|D|S, the trade organisation for advancing the UK's aerospace, defence and security industries, stressed that special attention should be paid to long-term priorities in greening air travel, as planes are very expensive and airlines need to keep passenger aircraft in service for 25-30 years to get returns on their investment.
"We need to ask whether the focus on what is the most important [environmental] issue today will still be considered the most important in 10 and 20 years time as well," he said.
Morris noted that drop-in kerosene biofuels were thought to be "pure imagination" two to three years ago, while now they are a reality. "It is likely that biofuels will be certified sometime this year ," he predicted.
However, he stressed that fuel is always going to cost money and that biofuels may cost more than oil-based kerosene. The cost of biofuels will depend on start-up and running costs and prices may not come down until the technology has matured and biofuel plants are up and running, he warned. He could not tell, however, "whether the prices will ever come down to the level of oil-based kerosene".
Philippe de Saint Aulaire, head of environmental affairs at the AeroSpace and Defence industries Association of Europe (ASD) and director of environmental affairs at the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA), stressed the importance of addressing the environmental issues facing the aviation sector at global level.
He said aviation needs to be considered as a global sector, because otherwise it will be much more difficult to find solutions which do not create competitive distortions.
Regarding potential future CO2 standards for aircraft, de Saint Aulaire emphasised that manufacturers are already striving to construct the most fuel-efficient aircraft as their customers (airlines) are always looking for the most fuel-efficient planes to decrease costs.
Giovanni Bisignani, director-general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the airline industry, stressed that "our message to governments at ICAO is simple. We need a global sectoral approach to reducing aviation emissions. And governments should incorporate our industry targets as part of their solution".
A global sectoral approach would mean that governments must account for aviation emissions at a global level and as an industrial sector, rather than within national targets, Bisignani argued. "This would ensure that airlines pay for their climate cost just once, not several times over, and it would drive emissions reductions with global standards on a level playing field," he said.
A recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which brings together regulators and experts from China, the EU, France, Germany and the US, noted that the pace of improvements in aircraft energy efficiency is very slow, and no progress has been made in the last decade.
It argued that emission reductions would mainly come from the introduction CO2 standards which would apply not only to new designs but also to newly-built aircraft from current production lines.
Daniel Rutherford, co-author of the ICCT's report, argues that if current designs are not subjected to the future CO2 standard, improvements will happen far too slowly. "Conventional wisdom holds that fuel prices drive constant improvements in new aircraft efficiency, but our analysis suggests efficiency improvements only tend to come with the introduction of new designs, which are much less common today," he said.
Applying a carbon dioxide standard only to new production lines, as the UN's ICAO has proposed (see below), could actually prove counter-productive by encouraging manufacturers to delay the introduction of more efficient designs in favour of older, unregulated models, the ICCT fears.
Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body, is proposing a CO2 standard for new aircraft designs only - rejecting suggestions that designs currently in production should be subjected to a maximum level of emissions.
In a separate development, the head of low-fare airline EasyJet, Andy Harrison, has accused airframe makers of delaying the delivery of cleaner, more fuel-efficient planes "because the cash flow they have from the Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 narrow-bodied planes is what they are interested in, and they want to keep that going".
Ahead of the December 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, an industry group bringing together the Airports Council International (ACI), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA) called on governments to "give their full backing and explicitly state their support for ICAO as the appropriate United Nations body for setting and administering aviation-specific standards and targets to address CO2 emissions from aviation".
Their worry is that a disparate regulatory system will be adopted in several regions or countries, raising compliance costs and hurting the global industry.