Major European airliner manufacturer Airbus has vigorously defended the environmental record of the aviation industry, while committing itself to further improvements in the coming years.

Airbus’ head of sustainable development Philippe Fonta, speaking at the company’s annual technical press briefing in Toulouse, pointed out that the industry had reduced the noise generated by commercial aircraft by 20 decibels compared with equivalent aircraft in the 1970s, and this has resulted in a 75% decrease in noise annoyance caused by aircraft.

There has also been a 90% reduction in unburned hydrocarbon and smoke emissions as well as a more than 50% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions from aircraft.

The amount of fuel consumed has been reduced by 70% over the past 40 years, and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions have also been reduced by 70% over the same period.

Today, aviation is responsible for just 2% of manmade carbon-dioxide emissions.

Regarding land use, within the European Union, only 1% of the land used for transport is employed for airport infrastructure, 4% is used for railway infrastructure, while roads account for 83%.

Nevertheless, the aviation industry in general, including Airbus, has committed itself to do even better. The industry objectives include a further 50% reduction in noise by 2020, in comparison with the levels of the year 2000 and likewise a 50% reduction in aircraft fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions, as well as an 80% reduction nitrous-oxide emissions over the same period.

Speaking to Engineering News Online, Airbus COO for customers John Leahy pointed out that “if we ever are to address environmental issues, it won’t be by adding costs. Many measures that help the environment also increase efficiency and reduce costs. The best approaches are those that benefit airlines, passengers and the environment.”

In addition to its commitment to design and build more efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft, Airbus is also seeking to make its manufacturing processed greener. The company was awarded ISO 14001 certification in June last year.

It has stated targets to reduce energy and water consumption and waste-emissions from its industrial processes by 2020. These targets are: a 30% reduction in energy consumption, a 50% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions, a 50% reduction in water consumption, a 80% reduction in water discharge and a 50% reduction in waste production.

The benefits from the savings will be invested in research and technology (R&T) for green aviation technologies. The company has committed itself to increasing its R&T budget by 25% from 2008.
“We need to keep growing, but with less environmental impact,” said Fonta.

“Aircraft will only be accepted if they are efficient in terms of the environment. We have to keep technology at the heart of our programme to improve our performance,” he added.

Airbus is convinced that the key to progress on the environmental front is, and always, will be technology.