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Creating a More Sustainable, Resilient National Airspace System: Part 1

Christian Albertson
Sep 02, 2021

GHI Blog

The Biden administration is considering extensive policy changes moving toward modern, sustainable infrastructure that would potentially impact the whole of US society. Significant R&D investments to reduce the environmental impact of National Airspace System (NAS) operations have already been made; however, we are at the beginning of this journey. NAS—consisting of US airspace, air navigation facilities, services, and airports—is a major component of US infrastructure. This six-part blog series shares the outlook of industry experts and how new technologies will usher in a sustainable and more resilient NAS.

Key Points in NAS Sustainability

A group of industry experts recently participated in the Air Traffic Control Association’s Tech Symposium to speak about sustainability in NAS. This group consisted of representatives from the International Air Transport Association, NASA, Pennsylvania State University, Airlines for America, and the Federal Aviation Administration. A wide range of topics were covered, from airport operation and fuel savings to the inability to produce enough sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to make a difference.

During the conversation, five topics quickly became the main themes:

  • The sustainability challenge and its solutions are complex. NAS is one of the largest and most complicated systems in operation today, more so than most people may realize. However large and complex NAS is, though, it is already a resilient system, improving itself over the last few decades.
  • Partnerships are important; no one company or solution can create sustainability. Many of the companies working to bring SAF or electric powered aircraft to market do not have the ability to create enough change on their own.
  • Government plays a role in advancing near-, mid-, and long-term priorities. Since the days of the Apollo moment, the government’s role in providing money and expertise has been critical to massive aerospace initiatives. Without government help, whether it be in the form of monetary contributions or regulatory assistance, change will be slow and may not come with enough time to truly make a difference.
  • Data and performance measures across the environmental lifecycle are important. With advances in aviation comes the need for proper data, trained data scientists, and a new generation of bright minds to bring innovative solutions. These new ideas need to be accompanied with a big picture approach.
  • The aviation community’s priorities can be reframed. From its earliest days up until today, the universe of aviation has changed dramatically. Aircraft are more efficient and produce less pollution than they did even 10 years ago. This is only the beginning. For aviation to remain resilient, the entire community must adapt, and every stakeholder needs to be engaged to make sustainability happen.

Each of these topics will be touched upon in an ongoing series of blogs, but these blogs in no way will tell the entire story or solve the problems addressed. These blogs should be used to spur conversations and to help pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient NAS.