Improvements in technology and alternative fuels will not solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions for airlines, a leading aerospace expert has warned.
Mark Watson, head of corporate environmental affairs at the Society of British Aerospace Companies, said: “We understand climate change is happening and that aviation is part of it. We are doing everything to try to address it.
“But improvements in fuel consumption will not be enough and we are way off developing a biofuel – it is probably 10 to 15 years away.”
Several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, have carried out tests on biofuels and Virgin has suggested their use could be barely four years away.
However, Watson told the conference of the Airport Operators Association in London: “There are significant technological challenges and no easy solutions. The [environmental] pressure on the industry will intensify.”
The conference heard Sir John Houghton, former editor of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, describe a warming world – with a fivefold increase in flooding, 150 million environmental refugees by 2050 and the loss of millions of animal species.
If airlines do not cut their CO2 emissions, Houghton said: “Everything the UK is allowed to emit by 2050 could come from aviation. That is a major problem. I assume there will be technical improvements, but aircraft last a long time.”
Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr agreed, arguing: “However you do the figures, aviation growth is a big problem in meeting emissions targets. We can no longer allow airport expansion.”
Parr argued for a cap on flights at today’s level. How-ever, Watson said: “We cannot subscribe to a cap on flights.”
BA head of environment Jonathon Counsel outlined plans to reduce BA’s emissions by 25% by 2025 and said the industry should commit to halving emissions by 2050.