This chapter considers how aircraft technologies influence emissions at altitude
today and how that may change in the future. This introductory section sets
the scene by briefly sketching the development and size of today's industry,
outlines the approach the authors have adopted to their task, and describes
the structure and content of the rest of the chapter.
Major advances in aircraft technology have been achieved in the past 40-50
years. Over that period, principal methods of propulsion have changed: Propeller
aircraft were succeeded by jet-powered aircraft of the 1950s; these jets, in
turn, were superseded by today's turbofan-powered aircraft from 1970 onwards.
The fleet has expanded rapidly. So too has the capacity of jet aircraft-rising
from typical 150-seat versions of the late 1950s to the largest 525-seat variant
of the 747-400 aircraft in service today. The performance and capability of
aircraft has also changed greatly. Cruise speeds of propeller aircraft have
trebled from the 100 knots typical of the 1940s. At the start of the commercial
jet age, speeds rose to 450 knots. Today's turbofans cruise at average speeds
of around 500 knots, and the Concorde reaches 1350 knots. The search for efficient
cruise performance with greater range, particularly for long-haul aircraft,
has also resulted in higher flying aircraft-a key factor in determining where
most aircraft emissions occur and their resulting impact (as discussed in Chapters
2 to 6). Average cruise altitudes for propeller aircraft
rose from about 3 to 7.5 km; today's jets cruise primarily between 10.5 and
11.5 km, with some operating at up to 13 km.
- Aviation designers and regulators must address complex challenges, given
the operating conditions encountered by aircraft and the correspondingly stringent
technical and airworthiness requirements that must be met. Factors that have
been and will continue to be considered include the following:
- Passenger safety must be assured for all phases of aircraft operations.
- Aircraft are more severely constrained by volume and weight considerations
than ground-based forms of transportation, placing more stringent limits on
available technology choices.
- Aircraft systems are typically more complex than other transport modes,
and many physical and chemical effects associated with them are closely coupled
and interdependent. As such, changes in technology aimed at improving one
aspect of performance, (e.g., a particular pollutant, or passenger safety)
may have adverse effects on other aspects of performance (e.g., fuel efficiency).
- Time scales for technology development and product life are on the order
- Costs to develop, purchase, and operate aircraft are high relative to many
other forms of transportation (aviation costs are typically counted in millions
and billions of dollars). As with any other commercial product, the impact
of technology changes on cost and customer satisfaction must be carefully
Considering the breadth and complexity of the technology base supporting today's
aircraft, this chapter cannot hope to provide more than an overview of the subject.
Emphasis has therefore been placed on the following key questions:
- What are the principal technological factors that determine the nature and
scale of emissions from aircraft at altitude?
- What progress has been made to date in reducing emissions, and how may new
advances in aircraft and engine technology help reduce them further in the
- What data exist about actual emissions from aircraft? What is being done,
and what needs to be done, to improve our understanding of and our ability
to predict the scale and nature of these emissions?
- How are emissions from aircraft currently regulated, and how do these regulations
influence emissions at altitude?
- What performance might we expect from fleets operating in 2015 and 2050
and in setting the scenarios discussed in Chapter 9?
The structure and balance of the chapter have been developed to reflect the
fact that advances in technology that influence the impact of aircraft on the
environment fall broadly into two categories:
- Innovations that improve fuel efficiency, thus reduce the amount of fuel
burned (and mass of emissions) per passenger-km flown
- Developments that may alter the percentage concentration of a particular
exhaust gas (e.g., reduce NOx for a given mass of fuel burned).
Broadly, advances that reduce the weight and drag of the aircraft fall into
the first of these two categories. These advances are covered in Sections
7.2 and 7.3, which provide background material and
a review of current development themes most relevant to the fuel efficiency
of modern aircraft.
Engine technology is more complex. Fuel efficiency is closely linked to engine
type (e.g., high bypass ratio) and choice of thermodynamic cycles (e.g., pressure
and temperature ratios), but changes in the design of the engine's combustion
system can also have a significant effect on the composition of the exhaust
plume. These two aspects of engine design are dealt with in Sections
7.4 and 7.5.
Section 7.4 introduces the principal performance and
design constraints that designers of new engines face and comments on future
trends. Section 7.5 takes account of engine cycle trends
on the design requirements of new low-emissions combustors. This section is
a key part of the chapter because it deals with the component-the combustor-that
has the greatest potential for design changes that may reduce the concentrations
of some emissions that are of concern. In particular, this section addresses
some of the issues raised in Chapter 2. The challenges
are complex, and additional background material is included to describe the
many fundamental conflicting characteristics of combustion processes that must
be reconciled in emissions reduction technology programs.
Trace species in engine emissions are also considered. Potentially important
physical and chemical changes to these species occur in the engine as the gas
travels rapidly downstream from the combustor and through the turbine stages,
where they undergo sudden changes in pressure and temperature. Section
7.6 discusses the present state of knowledge in this field.
Section 7.7 provides background information about work
to date in developing the international engine emissions database. It also reports
on progress in using data gathered from ground-based tests to predict corresponding
cruise altitude emissions levels. These methods are used in the development
of predicted inventories for future scenarios in Chapter
Aircraft fuel continues to be a subject of considerable interest. Kerosene-type
fuels are in widespread use today and are likely to remain so in the foreseeable
future. This factor inhibits the prospect of further reducing CO2 by changing
fuels. The use of kerosene is addressed in some detail in Section
7.8, as is the question of fuel effects on emissions. Looking further ahead,
Section 7.8 also considers briefly the use of alternative
fuels in the longer term-beyond 2050.
The later sections of the chapter concentrate on the smaller numbers of special
category aircraft in the global fleet. The first of these categories is "small
aircraft" as used in the regional sector of air transport. Generally, these
aircraft fly at lower altitudes than their larger counterparts and therefore
have a much lower potential impact on the climate. However, growth in this sector
is expected to continue; for completeness, therefore, Section
7.9 reports on the particular problems and differences of these aircraft
now and in the future. Section 7.10 is concerned with
the significant technical and operational issues that differentiate supersonic
aircraft from the subsonic fleet. These aircraft are small in numbers now and
are likely to remain so until 2015 or later. Beyond that time frame, a significant
rise in the numbers of such aircraft could present a more challenging environmental
problem because of the altitude at which they fly-a matter discussed in Chapter
2. This prospect has spawned research programs addressing the particular
problems arising from high-speed, high-altitude operations.
Section 7.11 discusses the effects of military priorities
that influence trends in the technology applied to aircraft. Although operational
effectiveness in combat will continue to be the key consideration in engine
design, Section 7.11 also points out why military operators'
interest in the composition of exhaust is similar to that for civil engines.
This section has links with Chapter 9, which shows how,
in relative terms, the impact of military fleets will fall partly because of
the anticipated slight reduction in their numbers but mainly because of the
predicted steep rise of global civil fleets over the next 50 years.