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Journey to Net Zero: The rising carbon footprint of commercial aviation, part one


Airline total emissions will hit new high in July as fleet growth outpaces aircraft efficiency gains.

Andrew Doyle, Cirium

Andrew Doyle, Senior Director – Market Development, Cirium

Please note: this is part one of a three-part series. Read part two and three.

In an era marked by significant incremental advances in engine technology and aircraft design, one might expect the commercial aviation industry to be on a clear flight path towards environmental sustainability. Yet, the reality is more complex and concerning. Despite these technological strides, the sector finds itself at a critical juncture, with greenhouse gas emissions projected to soar beyond previous levels, challenging the global commitment to combat climate change.

Latest forecasts from Cirium show that monthly carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from scheduled passenger flights will hit an all-time high of 74m tonnes in July 2024, exceeding the pre-pandemic record of 73m tonnes set in July 2019.  But there is good news. Over this five-year period, efficiency measured as CO2 per available seat kilometre* (ASK) will have improved by over 3.8%, thanks mainly to the increasing proportion of aircraft equipped with the latest engine technology.

Journey to Net Zero: The rising carbon footprint of commercial aviation

July 2019 saw nearly 3.1m flights deliver 915bn ASKs at an average of just over 70g of CO2 per ASK. Cirium’s forecast for July 2024, based on published airline schedules linked to actual fleets, includes more than 3.2m flights providing almost 980bn ASKs at an average of a little under 68g of CO2.

Journey to Net Zero: The rising carbon footprint of commercial aviation
 *Assumes 75% of flight-level CO2 from widebodies is attributable to passengers, with 25% accounted for by belly cargo

This efficiency improvement would have been greater were it not the case that hundreds of Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-powered Airbus A320neo Family aircraft are grounded pending engine inspections, while deliveries of Boeing’s 737 Max models were constrained in the wake of the extended grounding of the type after two fatal crashes. General post-Covid supply chain issues and certification challenges also led to fewer latest generation widebodies entering service than had been envisaged back in 2019.


Check back next week for part two: Factors influencing airlines reduction in CO2 emissions. Contact us to learn more about Emerald Sky.

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