Our Role in Assuring a Cleaner, Greener Future

The aviation community plays a vital role in addressing the challenges of climate change. While the industry has made progress toward reducing carbon emissions, much work remains. Reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires the ultimate sense of urgency – it’s only 30 years into the future. What meaningful steps have we made toward reaching this goal already? As we recognize Earth Day this month, what do we need to do to ensure we are leaving Mother Earth as healthy as possible for the next generation?

Industries, government, and academia must collaborate in setting forth, investing in, and achieving sustainability goals that will propel our nation and the world into a cleaner and greener future. We must explore all categories of sustainability – human, social, economic, and environmental – as they intersect our industry.

AIAA believes it is imperative to convene key stakeholders who must swiftly develop new technologies to assure our environmental, economic, and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. We highlight the latest advancements in these new technologies, advocate for R&D funding, help prepare the workforce, and support policymakers. In just the first few months of this year, we have heard from several AIAA corporate members looking ahead at both near-term and long-term needs.

At the 2021 AIAA SciTech Forum, Christopher Raymond, Boeing’s first Chief Sustainability Officer addressed sustainability in the context of the aviation industry’s recovery from the pandemic. Bouncing back will require “all the innovation that we can muster, and a lot of that innovation will be around sustainability.” He was optimistic that renewing the airline fleets and scaling up sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production in the next 10 years would be important steps toward returning to growth, holding carbon emissions neutral, and then starting to reduce them.

In February, AIAA facilitated collaboration on sustainability with an industry stakeholder webinar, “Sustainability in Flight: Our Journey to Decarbonization.” The panel discussed current efforts and the significant cooperation, innovation, and education required for the aviation industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

Amanda Simpson, Vice President of Research and Technology for Airbus Americas, noted that “society is demanding” sustainability. She encouraged a push for government action supporting hydrogen production. “Let the government fund or mandate the development of hydrogen production to the same extent right now that they’re doing for petroleum production.”

Bruce Holmes, Alakai Technologies’ former Chief Technology Officer, agreed, “We’d like to see that happen.” He encouraged AIAA and other technical professional societies to advocate for this and believes the energy industries would join the effort.

Arjan Hegeman, General Manager of Advanced Technologies for GE Aviation, added, “[It requires] all the elements – it’s SAF, it’s hydrogen, and it’s overall aircraft fuel propulsion efficiencies. We should partner with the government and figure out how we can accelerate all those paths.” The panel affirmed the government can play a large role at the federal, state, and local levels.

AIAA members took the message of prioritizing sustainability to Capitol Hill during the 2021 Congressional Visits Day. State teams from across the country met with lawmakers and their legislative staff, building relationships and engaging in a dialogue on key issues of importance to the aerospace community. Several congressional offices are looking to AIAA for additional educational resources.

The discussion on the government’s role in furthering sustainability will continue Monday, 26 April, in a policy-focused webinar featuring representatives from the FAA, NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, and the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. This discussion will explore the Biden Administration’s priorities, the role of Congress in creating incentives for technology development, NASA’s vision to advance the newest R&D to achieve our low carbon future, and needed regulations and international collaboration to be led by the FAA. We hope you will join us.

AIAA also recently published an information paper that highlights the challenges to aviation systems when transitioning from oil to new energy sources. The paper lists the needed steps for the community to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, including government support; deployment of SAF for current airline fleets; adoption of hydrogen fuel cells and other clean, renewable energy sources; focus on achieving new solutions by researchers; and development of the workforce in the vital technical disciplines.

We need to take all of these steps – advance new technologies, secure necessary funding for R&D, ensure workforce readiness, and gain the support of policymakers – to reach this bold goal. AIAA is committed to ongoing advocacy for these efforts. We also will build upon our momentum throughout this year during AIAA forums and other events. Outcomes from these events will help drive the much-needed progress.

Join us in the important work to reach carbon net zero by 2050. Together we can turn up the volume, assure our human future, and make the changes our home planet deserves.★

• Read “Decarbonizing by 2050: Optimists, pessimists and realists,” in April Aerospace America.
• Register at aiaa.org for the upcoming webinar, “Sustainability in Flight – The Government’s Role in Achieving Decarbonization.”
• Download the information paper, “Sustainability in Flight: Our Journey to Decarbonization,” at aiaa.org/advocacy/Policy-Papers.
• Learn the history and current developments with the on-demand short course, Sustainable Aviation (learning.aiaa.org).

Our Role in Assuring a Cleaner, Greener Future