How satellite technology and optimization of flight operations could be key in decarbonizing air travel

As a part of the Paris agreement, countries around the world agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, to reach the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

How do we get to net zero emissions by 2050?

Climate pledges by governments to date, even if fully achieved, would fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C

according to a new report, Net Zero by 2050: a roadmap for the Global Energy Sector
Representative | Shell Global

With the advent of science and technology, numerous propositions have been put forward to the fore with aviation doing its best to transition from fossil-based fuels to more sustainable options.

That said, a new whitepaper by Inmarsat and award-winning aviation journalist Elan Head highlights that the number of practical, immediately-viable options is limited to only two: either simply reduce flying or optimise the efficiency of flight operations.

It is a fact that the aviation industry is one of the trickiest to decarbonize due to the lack of suitable alternatives for fossil fuels in the market. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), hydrogen and batteries all hold promise for achieving deeper emission reductions in the long-term, but will not be available at the required scale in the near or medium-term.

Representative | Department of Energy

According to IATA, 1.8 gigatons of carbon will need to be mitigated given the aviation industry’s projected scale in 2050, which requires trillions of dollars in investments across the value chain.

Inmarsat’s latest report – ‘Plotting the route to a greener future, explores the important role that connectivity can play in boosting the efficiency of individual flight operations and the wider air traffic system as a whole.

It also vouches for the fact that airlines can leverage satellite communications to maximise fuel-saving opportunities and cut emissions almost immediately while laying the groundwork for future decarbonisation.

Representative | Inmarsat

The aviation industry has long been focused on sustainability and its commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 should be applauded. There is also a clear understanding that action cannot be limited to the long-term, as advancements in sustainable fuel technologies and avionics will take time to evolve. Therefore, it is vital that the industry explores measures that are readily available today, such as utilising the power of satellite connectivity to optimise flight operations. As a key partner of the aviation industry, Inmarsat is pioneering a range of new innovations that support decarbonisation, including our Iris programme to modernise air traffic management, leading to a range of fuel, CO2 and congestion-saving benefits. This is a prime example of how we can use technology at our disposal today to make a better tomorrow

Niels Steenstrup, Deputy President of Inmarsat Aviation, said
Niels Steenstrup | Source

According to the research paper, utilising satellite communication technology for operational and infrastructure gains may seem like small measures, but the need for airlines and the wider industry to commit to such initiatives is integral to meeting the 2050 net zero emissions target. Furthermore, it can be implemented in a much faster timeframe than advancements in airframe and engine technologies.

Representative | ALG Newspaper Shaping Future

Inmarsat’s Iris programme delivers high-bandwidth, cost-effective satellite-based data link communications across Europe. This ground-breaking air traffic management programme, with the European Space Agency (ESA), is a key component of modernising and digitalising the aviation industry.

Powered by SB-S, Inmarsat’s award-winning broadband platform for the cockpit, Iris uses secure IP connectivity to relieve pressure on congested VHF radio links, which are near capacity. This supports the Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) master plan for next-generation air traffic management and creates several powerful benefits for airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) across Europe, such as minimising flight delays, saving fuel and reducing the environmental impact of air travel.

In addition to exploring how creative future innovations such as contrail avoidance and formation flying could also be key to driving aviation’s decarbonisation, the report also features demonstrates that air traffic management modernisation has the potential to influence roughly 10% of European aviation emissions, and how the provision of winds uplink to all flights could result in annual global fuel savings of around 850 million litres and two million tonnes in CO2 emissions.


COVER: SciTechDaily