Air pollution emissions from civil aircraft could be responsible for the premature deaths of 16,000 people around the world every year, with an economic cost of up to £13.5 billion, according to a US study.
Based on 2006 levels of ozone and particulate matter PM2.5 emissions from aircraft, the study – published in volume 10 of the journal Environmental Research Letters – calculated the number of premature deaths using local air quality dispersion modelling from 968 airports around the world, alongside and population density data.
It found that the majority (87%) of the calculated 16,000 deaths per year from aviation emissions were attributable specifically to PM2.5.
And, of the approximate US$21 billion (£13.5 billion) global economic cost estimated from these deaths, the study found the highest cost was in Europe at more than US$9 billion (£5.8 billion).
Authors of the study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim the work is the first to analyse air quality and human health impacts of aviation at three different scales – local level (less than 1km from airport), near-airport level (less than 10km) and global (up to 10,000km from source).
This is because, according to the study, aviation emissions impact surface air quality “at multiple scales – from near-airport pollution peaks associated with airport landing and take-off emissions, to intercontinental pollution attributable to aircraft cruise emissions”.
However, the study found that around a quarter (roughly 4,000) of the overall estimated deaths could be linked to emissions from aircraft landing and take-off.
Study authors also said the societal costs of aviation air pollution “are on the same order of magnitude as global aviation-attributable climate costs, and one order of magnitude larger than aviation-attributable accident and noise costs”.
The number of air passengers is set to increase over the coming two decades, and the study comes as the UK government considers a controversial recommendation that a third runway is built at Heathrow to increase capacity – a recommendation which is at odds with the views of air quality campaigners (see AirQualityNews.com story).