The Search for Sustainable Solutions in Aviation

The Search for Sustainable Solutions in Aviation


August 25, 2023


Julia Pritchett

The global aviation sector contributes approximately 2.1% of the total carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities. Aerospace manufacturers and airlines have been exploring greater fuel efficiency from the beginning of commercial aviation. Despite advancements in fuel efficiency, the attempts to curtail emissions have fallen short in keeping pace with the escalating demand for air travel. Consequently, airlines are investigating the adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as a remedy. Sustainable aviation fuels are produced from wastes, residues, biomass, sugar, oils and gaseous sources of carbon. Presently, SAF accounts for less than 1% of the current jet fuel consumption and remains three times more expensive than conventional jet fuel.

The ASCENT program receives significant backing from the FAA, aiding university teams from various parts of the nation in exploring and showcasing the potential of cutting-edge airframe, engine, and flight management technologies. These technologies aim to decrease noise, emissions, and fuel consumption. Notably, the latest funding comprises $14.4 million distributed as grants to teams associated with 13 universities. Airlines, acknowledged as one of the most carbon-intensive industries, will encounter increasingly stringent regulatory obstacles unless the environmental impact of flying is lessened. There is no challenge with flying electric aircraft; the challenge is with the commercial side.

Electric planes were already operational in 1973 with the MB-E1 being the pioneer to carry a human crew. Subsequent milestones include the Solar Impulse 2’s solar-powered global circumnavigation in 2015 and the introduction of the Pipistrel Velis, the first commercially available type-rated electric aircraft, in 2020. Textron’s Pipistrel Velis Electro is actually the very first electric aircraft to score a full type certification. This certification qualifies it for pilot training in Day Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operations across more than 30 countries globally. And the best part is –  while it’s soaring through the skies, the Velis Electro keeps things eco-friendly by producing absolutely zero emissions.