Blue skies: growth and an environmentally sustainable future for the UK aviation industry

The misinformed view that current carbon targets are unattainable with an aviation policy which encourages growth needs to be addressed head on.

An icon of the UK aviation industry
Graham Chisnall
On 28 September 2011 13:38

Last week Norman Baker MP, the Transport Secretary addressed the Liberal Democrat Party Conference on how the Government’s Transport policy is pro-growth and anti-carbon.

He argued rightly that a good transport system is able to create growth while cutting carbon emissions. His speech outlined the majority of key transport areas and the corresponding Government policy, while notably omitting any real mention of Government policy on aviation, beyond an indirect mention of domestic restriction.

Ignoring a broad sector such as aviation -- airlines, aerospace, airports and air traffic management -- a sector which supports 1,476,000 jobs and contributes £79bn (5.7 percent) of UK GDP), is surely an oversight.

This sector is set up to deliver a valuable, sustainable long-term future for the UK both environmentally and economically, and Government needs to recognise this fact.

Looking to manufacturing, currently UK aerospace holds a seventeen percent global market share.

The industry is in the enviable position of being number one in Europe, and is second only to the US worldwide and currently directly employs 100,000 high skilled workers while supporting 360,000 in total.

ADS’ recent report, Flying Forward estimates that the industry will be worth £352 billion by 2029 to the UK – if it maintains current global market share.

There is real opportunity for economic growth with UK aerospace. Our current standing means that we can lead the charge into the overseas markets and emerging markets, particularly India, China, Brazil and the Middle East. This means more jobs, increased revenue and a sustainable high end manufacturing industry which will attract foreign investment and all the benefits that brings to our country.

As an island nation where nearly three quarters of our visitors arrive by air, disregarding the importance of aviation in a transport policy is perverse.

The Prime Minister himself has pointed out that it is estimated a gain of a half percentage point in global tourism market share will bring additional revenue and generate 50,000 new jobs. This is clearly one of the reasons why the PM has the goal of making the UK a top five international tourist destination. However in achieving this airports fit to meet the demand are vital.

Such an increase in aviation will and does have its detractors. In the case of the UK these can be both vocal and emotional in the content of their arguments. They also frequently ignore the facts.

UK aerospace is able to offer an environmentally sustainable future – and industry has set the path and is doing so right now.

An aircraft today produces seventy percent less CO2 emissions than their equivalent from 50 years ago and seventy-five percent less noise nuisance than thirty years ago. Through the introduction of quieter planes, the noise contour around Heathrow has shrunk, reducing the number of people exposed to significant disturbance by eighty-five percent.

The Airbus A380 is more fuel efficient than the previous largest aircraft model and per 100 passenger km burns three litres of fuel – as fuel efficient as any car currently on the market.

The Bombardier CSeries will better this, by travelling the same distance on only 2.3 litres. In comparison a Smart car or Toyota Prius are much thirstier requiring respectively 3.2 and 4.3 litres.

Meanwhile, the newly introduced Boeing 787 Dreamliner is 20 percent more fuel efficient than planes of a similar size due to its light composite structure and Rolls-Royce engines.

Taking into account these current improvements, and the future development in aircraft which will deliver further benefit, the wider UK aviation sector has come together as Sustainable Aviation to demonstrate how the use of new technology and operations will deliver CO2 emissions in 2050 that are below the level from 2000. This is despite a forecasted trebling of passenger numbers over that time.

The European aerospace industry has also set itself the voluntary and widely acknowledged ambitious targets to have by 2050 technologies and procedures that will ensure there is 75 percent reduction in CO2 per passenger km, 90 percent reduction in Nitrous Oxide (NOx) emissions and that perceived noise will be reduced by 65 percent - all comparable to a typical new aircraft in 2000.

This is in addition to the current targets of reducing CO2 per passenger km by 50%, NOx by 80 percent and noise by 50 percent comparable to 2000 equivalents by 2020.

UK industry is working with the same spirit and aspiration of our Government to increase growth for the economy while creating an environmentally sustainable future. By working in partnership with Government these two goals are achievable.

However the misinformed view that current carbon targets are unattainable with an aviation policy which encourages growth needs to be addressed head on. By ignoring the importance of aviation to our nation, the UK is artificially restricting economic growth and preventing development in environmental technologies.

Ultimately, this will be to the UK’s loss, and the only people who will benefit will be our direct competitors in Europe and further afield. 

Graham Chisnall is Managing Director, AeroSpace and Operations, at ADS. Visit their website at

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