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FARNBOROUGH, England — Airplanes are a minor contributor to global greenhouse-gas emissions, but their share is sure to grow as more people travel in coming years — and that has the aviation industry facing the prospect of tighter environmental regulations and higher costs.
The industry has embraced a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
Experts who track the issue are skeptical.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic caused travel to slump, airlines were on a steady course of burning more fuel, year after year.
Today’s aircraft engines are the most efficient ever, but improvements in reducing fuel burn are agonizingly slow — about 1 percent a year on average.
At Monday’s opening of a huge aviation industry show near London, discussion about climate change replaced much of the usual buzz over big airplane orders.
Some 1,191 exhibitors from around the globe are displaying their newest developments at the Farnborough International Airshow, which will run through Friday.
The event opened as United Kingdom authorities issued the first extreme heat warning in England’s history.
Two nearby airports closed their runways, one reporting that heat caused the surface to buckle.
As airlines confront climate change, the stakes could hardly be higher.
Jim Harris, who leads the aerospace practice at consultant Bain and Co., said that, with airlines recovering from the jolt of the pandemic, hitting net-zero by 2050 is now the industry's biggest challenge.
“There is no obvious solution, there is no one technology, there is no one set of actions that are going to get the industry there,” Harris said.
“The amount of change required, and the timeline, are big issues.”
Aviation releases only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks, according to World Resources Institute, a not-for-profit research group based in Washington, D.C.
However, aviation is used by far fewer people per day.
Jet fuel use by the four biggest U.S. airlines — American, United, Delta and Southwest — rose 15 percent in the five years leading up to 2019, the last year before air travel dropped, even as they updated their fleets with more efficient planes.
Airbus and Boeing, the world's two biggest aircraft makers, both addressed sustainability during Monday's opening day at Farnborough, although they approached the issue in different ways.
Europe's Airbus and seven airline groups announced a venture in West Texas to explore removing carbon dioxide from the air and injecting it deep underground, while Boeing officials said sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, will be the best tool — but not the only one — to reduce emissions.
Last September, airline leaders and President Joe Biden touted an agreement to cut aircraft emissions 20 percent by 2030 by producing 3 billion gallons of SAF by then and replacing all conventional jet fuel by 2050.
Climate experts praised the idea but said the voluntary targets are overly optimistic. Current SAF production is around 5 million gallons per year.
Communications system selected
Collins Aerospace — Cedar Rapids’ largest employer — and its parent company, Raytheon Technologies on Tuesday announced a handful of contracts they’d signed at the Farnborough Airshow, the first such major air show since the end of pandemic lockdowns.
- Collins Aerospace’s HF-9500 High Frequency airborne communications system was selected by Lockheed Martin for all future international C-130J Super Hercules foreign-military sales production aircraft.
The HF-9500 is a complete system made up of a modernized receiver-transmitter, antenna coupler and radio control that is easily integrated into various aircraft and antenna configurations.
- Collins Aerospace also signed an agreement to assist Boom Supersonic in the evaluation and development of major aircraft systems and components for its Overture program.
Overture will carry five to 80 passengers at twice the speed of today’s airliners and run on 100 percent SAF, Collins Aerospace said on its website. It will fly Mach 1.7 over water with a range of 4,250 nautical miles.
- Raytheon was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for two research-and-development projects to test the use of hydrogen and ammonia as effective, zero-carbon options for electricity generation.
Raytheon will validate the capacity to operate Mitsubishi Power Aero's FT4000 gas turbine unit using hydrogen and hydrogen blends as fuel sources. The hydrogen fuel test will complement other work occurring in another development project called the Hydrogen Steam Injected, Inter-Cooled Turbine Engine project, led by Pratt and Whitney — also a Raytheon unit.
That effort will be to develop hydrogen-fueled propulsion technology applicable to single-aisle commercial aircraft.