With the growing awareness of the global impact of climate change on our planet, many organizations are looking at new metrics that are designed to measure a company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs. ESG initiatives are, of course, designed to improve an organization’s social and environmental impact on the world. And they’ve become increasingly important at many of the world’s large companies and most recognized brands.
One area of focus for increasing sustainability and environmental friendliness is the aviation industry—and business aviation in particular. With the need to burn fuel to fly, it may seem like carbon emissions are an unavoidable part of air travel, and that nothing can make business aviation greener and more sustainable.
But certain changes in aircraft operation can decrease their environmental impact significantly and, according to Nazeif Habboub, Director of Business Aviation Services for ARINCDirect, business aviation is the ideal incubator for aviation sustainability initiatives.
“With fuel being the biggest variable operating cost, finding ways of flying more efficiently makes financial sense and creates a win-win scenario for operators.” – Nazeif Habboub
Why? “Often business aviation operators have one – or just a small fleet – of aircraft,” said Habboub. “This smaller fleet size gives them the agility and flexibility to test new things. Many times it is easier to purchase and implement sustainable solutions and technologies for one aircraft than for 500.”
Beyond the environmental impact, sustainable initiatives can often result in more cost-effective operations. “With fuel being the biggest variable operating cost, finding ways of flying more efficiently makes financial sense and creates a win-win scenario for operators,” notes Habboub.
Small fleet, big impact
Enterprises with small fleets can have an outsized impact – driving the adoption of sustainable activities and technologies across the larger aviation industry. Just one influential and popular CEO or celebrity could use their fame and platform to tout the steps being taken to make their business aviation operations more sustainable, and drastically increase demand for similar action across the industry.
“Business aviation can be the cradle of innovation for the industry. Solutions tested in this segment could be scaled up to provide benefits for commercial aviation,” Habboub explained. “By being a sustainability innovator and leader, we can provide significant benefits to many areas within aviation – beyond business jets.”
“Clouds, like contrail cirrus, work like a blanket…trapping heat radiation and warming the atmosphere…[But] the same tools used for improving flight efficiency can also be utilized for contrail avoidance.” – Raimund Zopp
Operators can truly make a difference by embracing sustainability in their business aviation programs. But what are some of the new technologies and innovations on the horizon that can make their air travel greener and more sustainable?
The most efficient route
There’s an emerging ecosystem of new flight-planning technologies and solutions that can be leveraged by flight crews to enable them to make more efficient and sustainable choices while in the air. By embracing these solutions, business aviation operators can effectively empower flight crews to make greener choices inflight by allowing them to optimize flight paths for fuel consumption and climate impact.
According to Raimund Zopp, Founder and Director of Innovation at FLIGHTKEYS, “Inflight optimization tools that are designed for pilots and made to be used in real-time on the flight deck can enhance a pilot’s decision-making capability. These solutions leverage cutting-edge technologies to provide flight crews with the tools and context knowledge to make informed, cost-efficient, and sustainable decisions on their own.”
Armed with the information they need to make greener flight path choices, business aviation operators can make a significant dent in their climate impact.
Make good choices
The ecosystem of alternative fuel aircraft is a small one, and the majority of business aircraft still require fossil fuels to operate. However, the fuel that businesses use in their aircraft doesn’t necessarily have to drastically increase their carbon footprints. According to Habboub, there are alternatives that could help decrease the emissions from business aviation operations.
“Inflight optimization tools…leverage cutting-edge technologies to provide flight crews with the tools and context knowledge to make informed, cost-efficient, and sustainable decisions on their own.” – Raimund Zopp
“There are some sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) options on the market that are usable replacements for jet fuel with a smaller carbon footprint than regular jet fuel,” Habboub explained. “These SAF solutions are blends of regular jet fuel plus sustainable feedstocks that can include agricultural waste products, forestry and municipal waste, algae, and other biologically derived hydrocarbons.”
While some of these SAF solutions might be sourced from sustainable sources, they’re not without their problems. SAF alternatives can be difficult to locate and acquire for business aviation operators. They can also cost more than traditional jet fuel. But they are available and usable today and can have a marked impact on the overall sustainability of an enterprise’s business aviation operations.
There is emerging science that carbon emissions from burning jet fuel are a contributor to the larger climate impact of business aviation. Based on some relatively recent findings, condensation trails – also known as contrails – are playing a significant role in climate change. And this area of inquiry is focused on reliably predicting the climate impact of each flight in detail to enable mitigation strategies.
What are contrails? They’re the distinctive linear clouds that are often visible behind an aircraft as it passes overhead. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), contrails are, “a type of cirrus clouds consisting of predominantly ice particles.” The FAA also explains that the water that forms these ice particles, “…comes from the atmosphere itself, and a small portion is from the engine exhaust.“
“Often business aviation operators have one – or just a small fleet – of aircraft…Many times it is easier to purchase and implement sustainable solutions and technologies for one aircraft than for 500.” – Nazeif Habboub
“While these cirrus clouds are effectively harmless to the humans and other living things that see them overhead, we are working with major scientific institutes on developing mitigating strategies to see how they could positively impact climate change,” notes Zopp.
“Clouds, like contrail cirrus, work like a blanket – mostly during the nighttime – trapping heat radiation and warming the atmosphere,” Zopp explained. “While predicting the precise time and location of contrail-critical airspaces is still an evolving science, at FLIGHTKEYS, we are developing avoidance strategies that create so little overhead on flights that implementing them now seems quite attractive. And the same tools used for improving flight efficiency can also be utilized for contrail avoidance.”
This sentiment was shared in an October 2022 position paper by Airlines for Europe (A4E), Europe’s largest airline association, which claimed, “Some of the technological solutions being developed and explored…may play an important role in mitigating the impact of non-CO2 emissions.” This led to the recommendation for, “Improving data of flight plans and promoting ‘green’ flight trajectories.”
“Some of today’s business aviation operators are starting to hold themselves accountable for ESG metrics the same way they hold themselves accountable for profitability and sustained growth,” said Habboub. “If these organizations are going to continue to make progress towards increasing sustainability, reducing their environmental impact, and reducing costs, they need to make smart choices in their business aviation operations. I believe we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible.”