Let's be honest; you can't uninvent aircraft, the aviation industry, or the internal combustion engine.
Therefore, we need to target the real culprit – carbon emissions. Despite what you may have heard, the aviation industry really is working hard to bring emissions down and achieve net-zero by 2050.
Let's look at Heathrow's own sustainability strategy - Heathrow 2.0, a plan that paths the airport to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050. We've summarised the main points below.
1. Efficient operations and modernising airspace
Heathrow's flight paths were designed in the 1950s, when there were far fewer flights and sustainablity was much less a concern. Our outdated flight paths cause planes to take needlessly longer routes, burning more fuel in the process. By modernising Heathrow's approaches, planes will arrive and exit at the airport much more quickly, cutting up to 1% of emissions in the air by 2030 in the process.
That 1% figure is just in Heathrow's immediate environs. The entire UK airspace will be modernised to use "Free Route Airspace" over the next five years, which will allow aircraft to break out of their rigid and lengthy flight paths onto freer, shorter routes.
When implemented at a European level, this could save up to 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a day.
2. Conventional aircraft improvements
By updating existing aircraft with more efficient engines, lightweight materials and "more electric" aircraft (where more of the plane is powered by electricity), up to 8% of carbon in the air could be cut by 2030.
Heathrow can help encourage the use of these planes through landing fees, charging airlines with the most efficient systems less to land at the airport.
3. Sustainable Aviation Fuels
You may of heard of these a lot recently. "Sustainable Aviation Fuels" is a broad term meaning fuels that are not derived from traditional fossil sources. SAFs can include biofuels made from waste cooking oil and fat, or "electrolysis" where fuel is created with direct air-capture of CO2. Up to 7% of emissions could be cut by 2030 through wider use of liquid SAFs which can be blended into the conventional aviation fuel powering existing plane engines with no massive alterations to airline fleets.
4. The Future - Zero-emission flight
This is the really exciting part, but unfortunately lies beyond Heathrow's direct control. By 2050, the hope is that most short-haul flights will be operated by battery or hydrogen-powered planes. Research on these aircraft is already well under way, and Airbus has committed to producing the first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035.
However, Heathrow does have some influence in this area of development. Being a leading global airport, Heathrow has a unqiue position to cater for zero-emission aircraft by providing the right infrastructure to service them and thus encourage the widespread adoption of these planes.
The full details on Heathrow 2.0 can be found here