Greening the Airline Industry

Subject: Business
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2017
Topics: Climate Change, Tourism, Work Ethic


The integration of the economy and the environment has been among the most sought legacies by the various debates held concerning sustainable development (United Nations, 2008). The quest has seen a significant shift from the traditional approach of direct legal regulation of the environment to a creation of interest of market-related reforms of environmental policy.

Different stages of flight are characterized by different amounts and types of greenhouse gases. Due to the nature of the aircraft, these gases are emitted into higher levels in the atmosphere which differs in effect from gases emitted on lower ground levels. The movement of aircraft and the crossing of boundaries broaden its study to an international perspective. The greenhouse gases that are emitted include CO2, soot, water vapor, O3( (Ozone) and oxides of nitrogen.

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In tourism, one of the most developing sectors is air travel thus impacting the environmental implications that tourism has. The rapid growth in air travel has created an environmental demand from the industry (UNEP, 2005). Policymaking in aviation is difficult given the complex and diverse international setting inherent in its operation. Policymaking in the industry is primarily derived from the interaction of political systems, scientific systems and the input of the industry. The industry has a history of being highly regulated, but market mechanisms are increasingly featuring as agendas in policy formation.

Tourism in the UK

The UK is rated as the eighth largest tourist destination in the world. Visitors from the United States have proven very valuable, accounting for $22.072 Billion of UK’s revenue. Domestic tourism has been a huge component of tourist spending in the UK. The busiest periods are during summer months and holidays.

Some of the destinations include the Buckingham Palace & British Museum, Royal Mile shop in Edinburgh, Kelvin Grove Gallery in Glasgow and museums in Liverpool.

Tourism Product

Tourism is an industry that is made of a variety of industries that provide different tourism products. They include the hotel industry and traveling industry among others. All tourism destinations expose the traveler to a mix of various organizations. The combination of different tourism products is what creates consumer satisfaction. Therefore, a tourism product is essentially the total experience of a place thus forming the basis for tourist attraction.

Policy Formation in Aviation

Environmental policy-making has experienced a massive reform due to the change in ideologies concerning the role of the government in policy formation. The belief that the government has exclusive knowledge of challenges and the method to solve them is being dismantled by scholars who assert that policymaking is a multi-tiered and complicated process (Baines, 2017). Therefore, a single agency can have the complete knowledge of these problems and their solutions. Therefore, absolute sovereignty belongs to no agency with regards to environmental policymaking.

That said, natural sciences are growing insufficient in the development of policy, necessitating the input of social science. The policy requires the collaborative development and agreement.  Policies that are created outside the process of social and political legitimization have the risk of becoming irrelevant to the operation of the business. The realization that the government cannot work alone during the process of implementing sustainable environmental goals has caused the stimulation of exploration of market-based instruments over the years (Green, 2009).

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In tourism, the development of indicators of sustainability in the industry has created an avenue of benchmarking with other sectors. For airlines, there has been recognition of efforts to conserve the environment (United Nations , 2007). Accreditation systems such as ISO 14000 have been used to establish guidelines that certify the process. These systems have not been embraced in the commercial aviation sector. Caution is essential as it such systems pays minimal attention to the internal drivers and values that businesses uphold concerning the environment. There have been arguments that stated that sustainable environmental management is a cultural tenet that requires the understanding of how social and natural sciences related. Forming a premise on science alone leaves out the factors that influence policy-making in the environment thus risking irrelevance.

Factors Contributing to Aviation Emissions

CO2 is the most concerning type of gas emissions in the aviation industry. The factors that contribute CO2 emissions include the aircraft type, the weight, the distance, weather, operational procedures and the type of fuel used(IEA & OECD, 2009).

The aircraft type influences emissions due to the differed rates of burning fuel. There has been a notable improvement in aircraft engines over the years. The new engines ensure less emission and more fuel-efficient engines. The distance the aircraft covers also plays a role since emissions differ at different stages of the flight. Take-off stage burns a high amount of fuel because of the power used to climb to its cruise altitude. While at cruise altitude, the aircraft is the most fuel efficient because it is less dense and the speed is adequate. While landing, the aircraft is descending thus requiring less fuel. Therefore, short distance flights are quite inefficient because the greater part of the journey is spent on the high emitting stages. Long distance, on the other hand, is more efficient as most time is spent ion cruise level where emissions are significantly less.

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Lighter planes utilize less fuel as compared to heavier ones. Therefore, the reduction of weight in the aircraft can reduce CO2 emissions. Airlines have tried to minimize the burden of the aircraft by taking fewer trolleys, using lighter paint and reducing baggage allowance rates (Kazda & Caves, 2015). Operational procedures done in the air or ground stand a chance of reducing the amount of fuel that is burnt thus reducing the CO2 emissions. The conventional jet fuel used has a high carbon content which in turn leads to high CO2 emissions. Alternatives that are derived from organic matter are being explored by accounting for the amount of carbon that is absorbed during plant growth.

Weather occurrences may worsen or better emission of aircraft. Headwinds, adverse weather like fog and mist cause delays with the landing. Temperature also plays a role when it comes to emissions. High temperature requires that more fuel is burnt to take off.

CO2 Emissions and Reporting in the UK

The calculation of emissions is a challenge as it demands that various assumptions are made. The difference in calculation method also introduces an element of difference. The UK government bases its calculation on the usage of fuel by tracking the sale of bunker fuel. The amount is then converted to a CO2 figure. Other countries may calculate their figure using the data collected on fuel burning and the conversion factor. These methods may lead to different values. Also, there is a risk of double counting as different organizations report the same emissions.

Airports are not required to provide data about their greenhouse gas emissions. Most organizations use standard gas reporting protocols, but due to the lack of an official standard, slight variations occur in calculations (NAP, 2010). Most data is in terms of the amounts of CO2e which includes the measurement of other greenhouse gases apart from CO2. It is essential to note that despite the fact that airports generate CO2; most of this comes from the arrival and departure of aircraft.

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CO2 Emissions by Airlines

There is publicly availed information on the emissions of the largest airlines that operate in the UK while placing consideration on the number of passengers. It should be noted that these airlines operate internationally and the figures are a representation of the global functioning of these airlines. The reporting of these numbers is not consistent with a particular reporting practice. Therefore, slight variations exist in the calculation and the greenhouse gases that have been measured.

AirlineGlobal Emissions (million tonnes)Passengers carried (millions)
American Airlines26.886.8
British Airways18.139.9
Easy Jet6.169.8

Greenhouse Emissions by Airport

The scope of reporting by the airports includes direct emissions and indirect emissions. The direct emissions are those that are within the control of the airport. Indirect emissions are those generated through the airport’s purchase of electricity and those generated due to the operation of the organization. The organization has no control over such activities; they include passenger and take-off cycles.

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AirportEmissions 2010 (tonnes)Predicted Emissions 2030 (tonnes)
London City200,000500,000

Air Quality

The quality of air has a direct effect on health, and the level of pollution varies the effect that it has on health. Vegetation and ecosystems are also affected by the emissions from various aviation pollutants (McMurry, 2004). The primary pollutants that are monitored include Nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The aviation industry recognizes the role that they play when it comes to air quality, and there are various reforms that have been put in place to improve air quality.

Airlines have limited the use of auxiliary power through the use of electrical ground power and the turning of main engines on arrival. During departure, there have been delays in switching on the main engines. The least possible energy used has also been encouraged through switching off of additional electrical systems. Reduced thrust during takeoff and the use of a minimal number of engines have also been used.

Airports have helped in the improvement of air quality through the provision of fixed electrical ground power for aircraft. The optimization of aircraft flow as they move between runways and stands and the use of low-emission ground vehicles has been useful in improving the quality of air (Wee, Annema, & Banister, 2013). Airports have also placed consideration in increasing landing prices for aircraft that emit high levels of Nitrogen Oxides.

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Heathrow has been of particular interest since 2013 when a monitoring station showed that the annual limits of NO2 had been exceeded. The findings necessitated the close monitoring of Heathrow through the use of a dedicated website. Here data is carefully monitored to ensure that the emissions remain within the limit.

Air Quality Policies

In the UK, Defra is responsible for setting national policies regarding air quality while local authorities are responsible for the assessment of air quality and the declaration of whether national air quality objectives have been attained. The aviation industry does not set specific air quality targets. Instead, air quality is measured by local authorities, and any disparities settled between the airport and the local authority.

NO2 at UK Airports

The table below shows the mean level of Nitrogen Oxides with more than 50,000 movements per annum.

London City333532

Local Environment Impact by Aviation

Biodiversity, waste, surface access, water, and air quality are some of the impacts that aviation has on the local environment. Airports have a massive opportunity to increase biodiversity through the availability of large sites that may not be accessible to the general public. Despite this, wildlife poses a hazard to the operation of aircraft. There has been massive effort geared toward avoiding the incidence of wild animals around airports.

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Waste is generated at the terminals and during the construction process. Waste may be managed on a local level through the mixture of waste and disposal methods. Airports are also encouraged to recycle and reuse waste where possible (UN-Habitat, 2005). Waste that is generated during flight is managed by airlines through the use of policies on the amount.

Aviation fuel leakages damage the quality of water bodies. Therefore, policies exist on the storage and handling of fuels. Large airports also consume a lot of water, necessitating measures on consumption of water.


Tourism is a leading sector in the UK. Airlines are growing more aware of the impact that they have on the environment thus necessitating policy formation in the area. Policy formation has experienced a shift from the traditional way to appealing to social structures in policy formation. The factors that influence the amount of CO2 emissions include the aircraft type, the weight of the aircraft and the weather among other factors. The reporting of CO2 and No2 in the UK through local authorities creates accountability.

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  2. Kazda, A., & Caves, R. E. (2015). Airport design and operation. Bingley: Emerald.
  3. McMurry, P. H. (2004). Particulate matter science for policy makers: a NARSTO assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. NAP. (2010). Informing an effective response to climate change: Americas Climate Choices. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
  5. Smith, P. (2004). Ask the pilot: a real pilot tells you everything you need to know about flying. New York: Riverhead Books.
  6. UNEP. (2005). Making tourism more sustainable: a guide for policy makers. Paris: United Nations environment programme.
  7. UN-Habitat. (2005). Water and sanitation in the worlds cities: local action for global goals. London: Earthscan.
  8. United Nations . (2007). Industrial development for the 21st century: sustainable development perspectives. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
  9. United Nations. (2008). Achieving sustainable development and promoting development cooperation: dialogues at the Economic and Social Council. New York: United Nations.
  10. Wee, G. V., Annema, J., & Banister, D. (2013). The transport system and transport policy an introduction. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
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