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aviation, Environmentalal Issues, Manufacturing, Safety Issues (non-airworthiness)

Making Aircraft More Environmentally Friendly

Jeanne Wu, Boeing’s Director of Environmental Performance, addressed strategies for improving environmental performance in aircraft during the ASA/AFRA Conference on June 29, 2010.

The 18,800 aircraft in the 2008 fleet are expected to grow to 36,000 aircraft by 2028.  Wu explained that the aviation industry accounts for about 2% of CO2 emissions.  Without intervention, it is estimated that this could rise to 3% over the next twenty years.  As a consequence, Boeing is working with the rest of the industry: taking proactive steps to reduce aviation’s environmental impact.

Aviation has had tremendous success in reducing its environmental impact.  From the 1950s to the 1990s, aviation achieved a 90% reduction in noise footprint and a 70% increase in fuel efficiency, with a correlative reduction on CO2 emissions.  Wu explained that the aviation community wants to build on this history of success and to further reduce emissions.

75% of Boeing’s R&D is focused on developments that benefit environmental performance

  • Next generation materials reduce weight which decreases fuel burn
  • Aerodynamic improvements to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency
  • Less energy intensive electric systems, like reducing pneumatic systems

Boeing is researching biofuel viability.  Current biofuel testing involves mixtures that include:

  • 20% coconut & babassu
  • 50% jatropha
  • 50% algae & jatropha

Boeing has set a goal to make each generation of their aircraft 15% more fuel efficient.  These “green” technologies are being implemented in the 787.

Improving the worldwide fleet efficiency

  • Implement airplane modifications like winglets
  • Develop operational efficiency strategies for air carriers
  • Optimize worldwide airspace efficiency and navigation

100% of Boeing major manufacturing sites are maintained to the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard.  This applies to the facilities as well as to the processes that are used for building aircraft.  Boeing also uses LEAN theories to reduce waste, which reduces Boeing’s environmental impact.  Finally, Boeing is strong supporter of AFRA, the non-profit organization that works on how to efficiently recycle aircraft at the end of their life-cycle.

AFRA is a big part of Boeing’s environmental plan for aircraft.  Through AFRA, Boeing is working with its peers to develop recycling technologies that will achieve 90% recyclability in the world fleet by 2016.  She estimated that the existing advances that have been developed could reduce aviation’s contribution to landfills by 75% by 2012.  AFRA’s members are identifying, accelerating and integrating promising recycling solutions.  She explained that one example of the advantages that can be realized is that there is a 90-95% reduction in energy use (and a correlative reduction in CO2 emissions) when using recycled carbon fiber, instead of creating virgin fiber.

Wu explained that joint action allows us to create a better future together.

About Jason Dickstein

Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.


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