US commits aviation sector to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

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At the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26, US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the US Aviation Climate Action Plan, which sets out to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s aviation sector by 2050.

Key initiatives in the plan include increasing the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), developing new aircraft technologies, cutting airport emissions and boosting airport resilience.

The FAA draws attention to SAFs for their potential to slash emissions by up to 100% on a lifecycle basis. As these fuels are produced from renewable and waste feedstocks, the organization noted their ability to provide the greatest impact in the effort to reduce aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions. SAFs can be used in today’s fleet of aircraft, without modification, and can be produced from a wide range of feedstocks, including wastes, residues, biomass, sugar, oils and gaseous sources of carbon. The announcement follows the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, a government-wide initiative designed to catalyze the production of at least 3,000,000,000gal of SAFs per year by 2030.

Through the Sustainable Flight National Partnership, NASA and the FAA are working with the industry to accelerate the development of more efficient aircraft and engine technologies, targeting up to a 30% improvement in fuel savings compared with today’s planes. These initiatives will also deliver substantial noise and emissions reduction benefits. New and more efficient narrow-body aircraft could enter the US fleet in the 2030s and new wide-body aircraft in the 2040s. Earlier this year, the FAA announced more than US$100m in matching grants to increase aircraft efficiency, reduce noise and aircraft emissions, and develop and implement new software to reduce taxi delays.

In an effort to cut airport emissions further and boost airport resilience, the government will provide incentives to reduce emissions from airports through several programs, including, the Zero Emission Vehicle Program and the Energy Efficiency Program. The Zero Emission Vehicle Program provides grants to replace or convert ground vehicles for zero-emission vehicles, and the Energy Efficiency Program provides funding to identify and implement energy reduction measures at airports.

The agency has also invested more than US$300m to electrify airport equipment and solicitation to find a sustainable air traffic control tower. This builds on provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, including investments in electric vehicles and public transit that will further address carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

Transportation secretary Buttigieg said, “The Climate Action Plan we are announcing is ambitious yet achievable and will help create a sustainable aviation future. This plan shows we can combat climate change while growing the economy and creating good-paying American jobs.”

Steve Dickson, the FAA’s administrator said, “The US has led in aviation for decades, and we must continue that leadership by building a sustainable aviation system. Our freedom to fly requires us to take action.”

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