Global air passenger and freight activity have more than doubled since 2000, with demand for air travel expected to remain strong. According to the International Energy Agency, the global aviation industry is not on track to meet the IEA’s 2030 Sustainable Development Scenario target.
Improving fuel efficiency both on the ground and in the air is the easiest way to achieve energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions. Biofuels can also provide a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have been shown to improve fuel efficiency.
Opportunities to save
Improve fleet management and flight logistics
Air traffic management is already highly efficient in Australia by global standards. However, fuel-efficiency opportunities may still exist through reviewing and optimising fleet management, flight logistics and the utilisation of jet streams.
Retrofit aircraft to achieve weight reductions
Numerous opportunities exist to reduce weight and improve the fuel efficiency of aircraft. Options range from replacing key components such as seats, to exploring synergies to retrofit and redesign aircraft using lighter engines and composite-fibre components.
Even something as simple as replacing paper flight manuals with an electronic tablet device is helping airlines to reduce aircraft weight.
Improve aerodynamic performance
Significant levels of research and testing show that riblets, large eddy break-up devices, hybrid laminar flow technology and innovative wing-tip devices offer the greatest potential to improve aerodynamic performance. Further improvements can be obtained through trailing edge optimisation, control of the shock/ boundary layer interaction and boundary layer separation.
Improve electrical energy efficiency
The electricity used on a plane is generated using an auxiliary power unit. It is cost-effective to apply energy efficiency measures to areas such as lighting and inflight TV systems. When aircraft are docked at airports, it is more efficient to source electricity from the airport itself than from the plane's own power unit.
Invest in new engines and aircraft
Investing in new, more efficient engines is a wise strategy to improve fuel efficiency. There are aircraft engines on the market that are 10–15% more fuel efficient than best technologies available ten years ago. Engines with still greater fuel efficiency are under development. Electric aircraft are also likely to become viable. Upgrading airline fleets to more efficiently designed aircraft can yield significant fuel savings.
Improve ground operations
From aircraft tugs to baggage and cargo transportation, ground operations have traditionally relied on gas and diesel engines. New electric options exist that increase efficiency, reduce pollution and reduce the overall cost of company operations.
Biofuels differ from fossil fuels in that they are renewable and don’t need to be drilled for or mined. Aviation biofuels are derived from vegetation, municipal waste and recycled oils, and can have substantially lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than standard jet fuel. Lab and flight testing have demonstrated that bio-derived jet fuel blends can meet safety, technical and quality standards for the aviation industry, while delivering noticeable improvement in efficiency.
For more information, see Air transport opportunities to save.
MagniX electric plane engines
An aviation tech company founded on the Gold Coast has set out to transform commercial passenger planes by developing an electric propulsion system.
Led by a former Boeing executive, MagniX believes they are on the way to replacing the turbo propellor engines found on the small, workhorse planes that service remote areas around the world.
The startup announced in September 2018 that it has tested a 350 horsepower electric motor in a Cessna ‘iron bird’ test rig, which it now aims to scale up to offer a 751-horsepower alternative to the Pratt & Whitney PT6. The turboprop engine is commonly found in small aircraft that carry about 15 passengers, like the short-haul Cessna 208 Caravan and Havilland Twin Otter.
Last year MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski told the ABC that he predicts electric long-haul flights are at least 20 to 30 years away, but the company aims to have an all-electric motor ready to install in a commercial plane by 2022.
Industry Directory Australian Industry and Skills Committee
Bio-derived jet fuels Bioenergy Australia
Aviation biofuels Qantas
Aviation in a Low Carbon World Virgin Airlines
Aviation: Tracking Clean Energy Progress International Energy Agency
Fuel efficiency Qantas
Fuel efficiency International Air Transport Association
Sustainable Development Scenario International Energy Agency
Technology Roadmap International Air Transport Association