• Decarbonization
  • Supply Chain
  • Policy and Regulation
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Fuel Efficiency and Emerging Technologies

Creating a More Sustainable, Resilient National Airspace System: Part 5

Christian Albertson
Sep 30, 2021

GHI Blog

Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series highlighted the complexity of the National Airspace System (NAS) sustainability challenge, the importance of partnerships, and the role of the government for addressing sustainability. Part 5 discusses what needs to be considered as policies are designed to meet the US government mandated CO2 emission reductions by 2032.

Effecting NAS sustainability takes time and technology, and also requires deep insights on supply chain—and the costs to optimize spending that time and resources. This is particularly important in aviation because the technological development timeline is slow and investments are unlikely to be paid back for years. This makes big investments in, or expectations of, specific sustainability solutions a challenge and a risk. For instance, investments in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) could be disrupted by market movements toward electric aircraft (EA). 

Automotive Market Sets Effective Policy Example

Government policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard regarding transportation fuels and technologies have a big role in determining the conditions that enable one fuel type or the other to succeed. US automotive market regulations are a good example of how effective policy can be at transforming markets in this regard. Policymakers and industry stakeholders must have a robust understanding and accounting of the realities, the costs, and the benefits for SAF or EA.

Look at EA as an example. The energy density disadvantages of batteries relative to petroleum or SAF-fueled engines are well known. What is less understood is how this disadvantage translates into battery supply and disposal issues and the resulting magnitudes. While SAF powered aircraft do not use batteries for propulsion there are significant concerns tied to the capacity of various SAF feedstock resources.

These issues are challenging but, if accounted for correctly, they will optimize how NAS is made sustainable. Transportation energy markets, including aviation, are sensitive to land-use change issues. Regulations in Europe and China require EV makers to be responsible for battery disposal; and biofuel regulations in Europe, the US, and elsewhere account for land-use change. These regulations can help ensure sustainability solutions do not create new problems. 

Regulators Must Direct Stakeholders toward Sustainability

Advanced as they are, automotive regulations are not a perfect example. Regulators in this market still need to continuously update policies to direct industry players toward sustainability on numerous fronts. As the aviation industry pursues sustainability, it must take similar initiative to continuously study, map, and cost the various paths to sustainability. Such preparation will help ensure efforts are not wasted on strategies that cannot meet demands and that the market is not disrupted by new environmental surprises.