Collaboration and Innovation Will Lead Aviation Industry Through the Green Revolution

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Sustainability in Aviation

The aviation industry has faced many challenges in the past two decades. From 9/11 to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has frequently had to collaborate with global governments to embrace measures to protect airline passengers and employees.  And today, the industry finds itself facing another challenge – having to improve sustainability in aviation and bolstering efficiency to help battle climate change and preserve the planet for generations to come.

One of the companies that have been at the forefront, leading the push towards increased sustainability is Collins Aerospace. And the individual spearheading the company’s sustainability initiatives is its Chief Sustainability Officer, LeAnn Ridgeway.

Speaking with Connected Aviation Today, Ridgeway offered insight into how the industry can improve efficiency across the aviation ecosystem through data and analytics. She also highlighted the aviation industry’s sustainability goals and how they can improve its connected ecosystem. In addition, Ridgeway elaborated on how Collins Aerospace is helping to move the industry towards sustainability by driving collaboration and coordination between aviation stakeholders and global governments.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT): What are some of the sustainability goals that the industry is seeking to achieve?

LeAnn Ridgeway: The industry’s largest goal is to become carbon neutral. But reaching net-zero carbon emissions is complicated because there are many different aspects an organization in the aviation industry must account for in that process.

For example, a company like Collins Aerospace must account for the greenhouse gases and carbon that are produced during our manufacturing processes. We must also consider the energy used to power and run our factories, offices, and other facilities.

To reach net-zero carbon emissions, companies like ours need to reduce the overall production of carbon in our operations, while simultaneously embracing the use of renewable energy.

But sustainability isn’t just about carbon emissions. There is a goal across our industry to reduce the production of waste products, which includes things like wastewater or any materials that will ultimately end up in a landfill.

Candidly, these are goals that you find across all industries – not just aviation. However, there are some sustainability goals that you’ll find in the aviation and aerospace industries that are unique to those markets.

For example, the aviation and aerospace industries are concerned about noise pollution – which is not something that many other industries have to consider. That’s why companies like Collins Aerospace are working to reduce the amount of noise that our products generate – particularly around airports, which tend to be clustered around high-density population areas.

Another unique challenge facing our industry is hazardous materials. There is a European regulation called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) that was introduced to remove harmful chemicals from manufacturing system products, and the industry is actively working to comply with REACH regulations.

CAT: How can technology help empower this “net carbon neutral” movement? What can new technology do to advance that sustainability goal?

LeAnn Ridgeway: Let me give you an example. There are approximately eight jet bridges in the Eastern Iowa Airport, which services the greater Cedar Rapids, Iowa, region. I fly often from Charlotte, NC to Cedar Rapids, IA. The flight is listed as taking one hour and forty minutes when you consider the time change. But the actual flight takes about an hour and five minutes.

“By accessing, aggregating, visualizing, and analyzing flight data, we can eliminate these inefficiencies so that planes aren’t sitting on the tarmac… while burning fuel.” – LeAnn Ridgeway

When we land, the pilot is excited to announce we’re ahead of schedule. Often, passengers remain on board for an additional 20 minutes waiting to disembark due to logistical delays. And while that plane and its passengers are sitting on the tarmac, they’re burning fuel.

By accessing, aggregating, visualizing, and analyzing flight data, we can eliminate these inefficiencies so that planes aren’t sitting on the tarmac or waiting in a 30 aircraft-long line to take off – all while burning fuel.

We can now implement more intelligent routing for airplanes by analyzing and visualizing flight data. We can optimize what they do when they’re on the ground and when they’re in the air – improving flight and approach paths. This information will help aviators and air traffic controllers optimize their operations to burn less fuel and ultimately emit less carbon.

CAT: Aside from leveraging data to optimize airport operations, what else can the aviation and aerospace industries do to advance sustainability goals? What about in the areas of renewable fuel and manufacturing processes?

LeAnn Ridgeway: To help make the actual aircraft more fuel-efficient and environmentally sustainable, the industry is looking to leverage newer, lighter, more advanced, and more efficient materials. In fact, Collins Aerospace recently acquired Dutch Thermoplastics to bring their advanced materials into our existing solutions. And we made that decision because the integration of these new, lighter materials result in lighter, more aerodynamic aircraft that require less fuel.

The industry is also exploring the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Collins Aerospace has been partnering with our sister company, Pratt & Whitney, to help make aircraft capable of flying with SAF.

“Industry analysts and experts anticipate that sustainable aviation fuels production and distribution networks will scale to enable the use of 100 percent SAF in aircraft by 2030.” – LeAnn Ridgeway

Most next-generation aircraft can already fly on a mix of 50 percent SAF, which can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 80 percent. Together with Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace is working to transition all our systems so they can operate on 100 percent SAF. To accomplish that, Collins Aerospace will need to update all engine controls, flow meters, and disparate sensors within the aircraft. But we think the reduction in carbon emissions is well worth the effort.

When it comes to the use of SAF in aircraft, the limiting factor isn’t the aviation systems, it’s the production and accessibility of the SAF. Significant effort and investment are still needed to scale the production and distribution of SAF for it to replace fossil fuels. However, industry analysts and experts anticipate that SAF production and distribution networks will scale to enable the use of 100 percent SAF in aircraft by 2030.

CAT: How can a more sustainable industry benefit everyone in the connected ecosystem?

LeAnn Ridgeway: Our experience has shown us that as aviation businesses become more sustainable, they also become more efficient and profitable. Ultimately, it’s just good business. We’ve seen that companies that invest in sustainable aviation are setting up for long-term success and are outperforming others in some regards.

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that when we focus on something, we can do it better and faster than anticipated. We saw how quickly we transitioned from in-office work to work from home, which would have taken years had necessity not been a motivating factor. So, I think we’re going to see rapid innovation soon, which I anticipate will be a very transformational time in the aviation industry.

As companies, we went through the Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution. Now, we’re experiencing the “Green Revolution,” and this change has the potential to deliver many benefits. It’s going to change our industry for the better.

CAT: What is Collins Aerospace doing to help move the industry more towards sustainability? What challenges remain?

LeAnn Ridgeway: We believe it’s imperative to take an active leadership role and help foster collaboration across the industry. To accomplish this, we’re working with industry partners and industrial groups to identify what the aviation industry can and should do as part of this “Green Revolution,” and what makes sense for our respective businesses.

“Aviation is a global business… We need to work with world governments to collaborate and harmonize on standards and regulations.” – LeAnn Ridgeway

The aviation industry, as a whole, faces a challenge as a result of disparate, often competing standards and regulations that are being developed and implemented around the world. Aviation is a global business. When different world governments implement disparate standards and requirements, large aviation companies need to identify which regulations impact their business and how they need to adapt their business and operations to keep pace.

When the world comes together on safety standards and regulations, we can move much faster, and more efficiently. We need to work with world governments to collaborate and harmonize on standards and regulations. Then, we need to identify the metrics and standards by which we’ll measure progress toward accomplishing our goals and meeting these regulations.

To help make this possible, we’re participating in the International Aerospace Environmental Group (IAEG) and establishing working groups to determine voluntary standards that aviation companies can follow to eliminate waste and accelerate progress toward sustainability goals.

“I would love to see our industry not compete on sustainability but collaborate on sustainability so that we can move the needle more quickly.” – LeAnn Ridgeway

At Collins Aerospace, we’re working to lean forward with these industrial associations to evaluate regulations that could work for the industry. We’re also fostering conversations with global governments to provide incentives for companies to invest more heavily in green initiatives.

CAT: What can stakeholders do to help the industry prioritize sustainability?

LeAnn Ridgeway: There are three immediate tasks that all stakeholders – private industry, global governments, and industry associations – need to accomplish. First, they need to work together to collaboratively define standards so that the aviation industry knows where the goalposts are. Next, they need to increase transparency in accounting and establish metrics and measurements so that the entire industry is measuring and tracking the progress of the same things in the same way. Third, they need to provide incentives that enable the world to work together.

I would love to see our industry not compete on sustainability but collaborate on sustainability so that we can move the needle more quickly.

The industry – and Collins Aerospace, in particular – is prepared and dedicated to achieving our carbon neutrality goals. We’re dedicated to embracing biofuels and renewable energy. We’re working towards meeting our sustainable manufacturing goals. But, with more collaboration between all parties involved, we can get there even faster, and exceed these goals.

To learn more about how Collins Aerospace is approaching its commitments to sustainable aviation, click here.

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