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Flying Green – Part 2

Business aviation has managed to fly below the environmental radar, but for how much longer? In the second of three parts on Flying Green, David Carr chats with Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) president and CEO Rich Gage about the environmental challenges facing the sector.

June 9, 2008  By David Carr

Business aviation has managed to fly below the environmental radar, but for how much longer? In the second of three parts on Flying Green, David Carr chats with Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) president and CEO Rich Gage about the environmental challenges facing the sector.

Concern over the environmental impact of flying appears centred around commercial air transport. Do you see that focus shifting over the next five years?

Air transport has been an easier target. That is partly because commercial aviation is the larger sector and it’s been easier to model its impact on the environment. But there is already a shift to engage the business aviation community.

The expectation is that we will be more involved and that there will be greater modeling from a data perspective to quantify what business aviation is contributing and what we might be able to do to minimize and reduce that environmental impact. The CBAA is already working closely with the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on improved modeling.

Air transport accounts for approximately two per cent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and business aircraft produce less than 1.5 per cent of that total. Is that a sustainable argument for business as usual?


It’s a fact, but it’s not a sustainable argument now. It’s easy to say, ‘our contribution is wafer-thin, so why are we bothering?’ But the world doesn’t work that way. These aircraft have a lot more visibility than the 1.5 per cent generated and will be an easy target for politicians and environmentalists to point to a trend.

There may be an argument linking Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the CO2 emission impact. In business aviation, the GDP contribution would clearly outshine the impact of emissions. But that doesn’t necessarily float very far when you get into the public domain. 

Given spikes in the price of oil and the desire of corporations to be seen as green, is there increased demand from the marketplace for cleaner, more efficient models?

It is an ongoing trend whether there is a spike in the price of oil or not. There are lots of drivers to make aircraft engines more efficient from a fuel consumption, maintenance and overhaul standpoint.

By the numbers

  • Overall CO2 emissions per year by all business aircraft combined are approximately the equivalent of one medium-sized power plant.

  • Hourly emissions of business aircraft range from under 1,000 kgs to approximately 4,000 kgs.

  • Typically business aircraft fly 400-500 hours per year versus over 3,000 for commercial air transport.

  • A typical medium size turbo-jet produces 2.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per flight, and 1,250 tonnes of emissions per year.

  • Business aircraft produce approximately one to 1.5 per cent of all aviation CO2 emissions.

  • Operations into small or regional airports minimize ground tax and flight time distance.

Source: IBAC/February 2008


There will always be market pressure to produce a product that has a cost advantage over the competitor. Manufacturers want to maintain a competitive position in the marketplace and must produce products at the leading edge.

The emergence of low-budget airlines in the 1990s is often cited as one of the causes for commercial flights being targeted by environmental campaigners. Could the arrival of smaller jets be a similar trigger for business aviation?

It could be if you’re looking for a case to point to in terms of trending up, but I don’t see it as something significant. There are other emerging issues that will drive the environmental bus.

Are some solutions, such as biofuels, over-hyped? 

There can be a tendency to over-hype a solution. Technology is always more difficult to introduce than originally perceived. There is a difference in, say, developing a fuel that will contribute to a pristine environment and transitioning it in the marketplace from what we do today.

Technology forcing does not work. You can only realistically create technological advances at some prescribed rate. You can track noise reductions and fuel consumptions over time, and the industry comes out ahead in those comparisons. But the chance of a big-bang approach in technology is highly unlikely.

Rich Gage is CBAA president and CEO.

From a regulatory standpoint, have governments, air navigation systems and airports done enough to help the current fleet of business aircraft reduce its overall carbon footprint?

It’s hard to measure. There has been a considerable amount of work done by our industry and other agencies, including government, to make the environmental impact of our activities better. There is technical evidence showing that engines and technology improve and continue to improve. But if you’re an environmentalist that argument might be a complete sham.

As for the flow of traffic from an ATC perspective – a minute saved here and there all adds up to incremental changes in reduction in the footprint. My personal view is there has been a lot of work done. The operator is interested in getting his airplane from point A to point B in the most economical way possible. That’s the driver. The regulator deciding on a target downstream at some time frame has traditionally not worked very well.

What would the CBAA like to see?

More market-based measures. One we would be supportive of is an emissions trading concept. We determine what your carbon footprint is, a price is set and that money is put into offsets. Again, we get into the potential for over-hyped solutions. Some offsets will have less merit in helping to mitigate the carbon footprint. Planting trees in Scotland, for example, might not be the
best offset.

One of the pieces for us is that the numbers are very small and it is quite possible that many of the business aircraft will fall below some kind of entry-level point involved in emissions trading. But it’s not going to be good enough to be out of sight, out of mind. The visibility of business aviation means we are all going to have to do our part and be good citizens in all this activity.


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