Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from planes in Europe are expected to increase by 43% over the next 20 years, according to a new European Union study.
The European Environment Agency’s (EEA) first aviation environmental report, published last week (January 29), claims that NOx emission from Europe’s aviation sector doubled between 1990 and 2014, and they are expected to grow by a further 43% between 2014 and 2035.
This growth in emissions from the sector is in part due to the 80% increase in the number of flights since 1990, which is also expected to continue increasing by another 45% by 2035.
Indeed, by 2035 the EEA estimates that in the absence of continuing efforts, 20 major EU airports could face “significant” and related environmental impacts due to air traffic growth.
It comes as the government carries out further assessment on the potential air quality and environmental impacts of expanding UK airport capacity at either Heathrow or Gatwick, with its final decision on the issue delayed until later this year (see AirQualityNews.com story).
While the EEA report concedes that today’s aircraft are quieter and produce fewer emissions than their equivalents 30 years’ ago, it argues that plane fleets in Europe are “slowly ageing”, with the rate of technological improvement failing to keep pace with the historic growth in demand for air travel.
The limited success in developing alternative, lower-emission plane fuels is highlights as just one example of this.
Future growth in the European aviation sector is therefore “inextricably linked to its environmental sustainability”, according to the EEA, which believes that the environmental challenge for the aviation sector is set to increase further.
The EEA said it does expect technological improvements, further work on alternative fuels and additional stricter standards aimed at curbing aviation emissions of particulate matter and CO2 emissions in the near future.
Nevertheless, the report – which also looks at the impact of the aviation sector on CO2 and climate change – calls for a “comprehensive and effective” package of measures to address the environmental challenge based on reliable, accessible information.
EEA executive director, Hans Bruyninckx, said: “It is clear that Europe’s aviation sector has an increasing impact on our health and environment. While aviation plays an important economic and social role, its increasing popularity will lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and noise. These are key challenges Europe’s aviation experts and policy makers need to address to create a more sustainable sector.”
The report is the result of a close collaboration between the European Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) the European Environment Agency (EEA) and Eurocontrol. It is intended that the document will become a regular overview of the aviation sector in order to plan suitable policy making measures.