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Not so ‘Wright’ after all, eh!
A takeoff towards greening the aviation sector is not financially viable. Can we ensure its sustainability?

The fact is – endless rounds of green summits between nations have ended up doing far greater harm than good. And the numerous flights that ferry officials and their teams back and forth to these meetings have a lot to do with that. Indeed, the reality of green transport will remain a distant dream without considering the aviation sector, which ranks right up there in the ranks of the world’s most polluting sectors of all time.

While flying is a day-to-day activity for those who can afford it, it’s a dream for many more who can’t. For the earth, however, it’s a growing nightmare the more such dreams get realised. Air travel is responsible for around 2.5% of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The effect of emissions has been known to increase nonlinearly with altitude. Environmental activists believe that aircraft are so harmful that one 747 takeoff creates the pollution level equivalent to setting a local gas station on fire – compare this to the fact that the year 2008 had over 77 million aircraft movements taking place globally. And the figure will only increase exponentially.

If this still looks like a non-issue, consider this report. A medical report from the University of Illinois, Chicago, estimated that the Chicago O’Hare International Airport affects the health of as many as 5-million people living in the surroundings. The report cites that if you live within 5-6 miles of an airport, you face a heightened risk of dying prematurely from environmentally induced cancer. Imagine the cumulative effect caused by around 49,000 airports operating worldwide (as per last statistics of Airports Council International). From damage due to chemicals like ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and NO2 to the harmful effects of aircraft noise, major health problems have been identified regularly.

According to Germany’s central environmental office, a day-time average sound pressure level of 60 decibel has the ability to increase the incidence of coronary heart disease by 61% in men and 80% in women, while a night-time average sound pressure level of 55 decibel increases the risk of heart attacks by 66% in men and 139% in women. Surprisingly, flights still take off with noise pollution levels of as much as 150 decibels on an average.
Ironically, aviation has an inextricable link to the key industries of global trade and tourism. So state governments are reluctant to tax and regulate the industry either on the basis of environmental impact or on the basis of health issues. Although governments have woken up to the need of keeping residential colonies away from airports, with the growing population of many metropolitan centres, it is but inevitable that the civilian population reaches the fringes of airports. Now, as the issue of climate change is gaining prominence, governments too are expressing concerns. The European Council asked airlines to take part in the Kyoto emissions reduction scheme to reduce emission levels by 20-30% by 2020. Leaders in the G8 summit also expressed their expectations from the International Civil Aviation Organisation to do more beyond state governments’ requirements. Airlines are increasingly incorporating alternative fuel-efficient engines using biofuel, hydrogen and other renewable sources. The DHL group is buying eight new Boeing 777-200 LRF and six 767-300ERF under its GoGreen initiative to increase carbon efficiency by 4%. France has developed Electra, a single-seater battery-powered experimental plane. Virgin flew a Boeing 747 part-fuelled by bio-diesel from London to Amsterdam. Airbus has pledged to produce more greener planes before 2020. These are but niche initiatives. However, long term success will depend on the role of governments in improving infrastructure and encouraging alternative energy engines. The environmental cost will have to be incorporated heavily in air travel fare – and that’s inevitable!

By:- Akram Hoque

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