Emissions from Airplanes Beg For New Standards

The next time you consider flying to a “green” event, think about the impact of air travel. According to Flying Clean, long haul flights produce on average twice as much emissions per mile traveled per passenger than cars and short haul flights produce three times as much.

At the time when the Kyoto protocol (1997) entered into force in 2005 obliging participating countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the emissions from international aviation were excluded from the target. Ten years after, the Obama Administration together with the E.P.A. is set to fill the void and regulate the aircraft industry CO2 emissions by setting up standards. A notable exception is the exclusion of small and military airplanes from the new regulatory standards.

According to the E.P.A data, emissions from airplanes contribute 3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Negative affect on human health from the airlines emission is being assessed by the E.P.A.  Under the Clean Air Act E.P.A. is obliged to regulate the pollutants that pose the endangerment to human health. Previously E.P.A. recognized such endangerment from cars, trucks and power plants and set out greenhouse gas emissions standards. New regulations sparked technological research, innovations from improved fuel efficiency, electric and hybrids vehicles to the use of renewable sources of energy in power plants.

Can we expect the same to happen in the airlines industry? On one hand, the new rules will force the air industry to search for improved efficiency solutions. On the other, according to Coral Davenport and Jad Mouwad from New York Times, regulating “pollution from commercial planes could present major legal and engineering hurdles”. Moreover, an attorney with Earthjustice Sarah Burt states, “Fuel efficiency for aircraft has been very, very slowly improving. But it’s been improving more slowly than we’ve seen historically.”

Analysts estimate the airline industry will grow 5% per year in the next 2 years, which means more flying, more pollution and more economic, ecological and health impacts. Therefore, emissions reduction policies are necessary instruments in regulating the emissions from the airplanes. An industry that contributes so significantly to our nations greenhouse emissions problem should not only be doing more to mitigate its environmental impact, but be required to do so.


Irina Yankovskaya, Intern