Under the Radar: Technological Solutions for Decarbonising Aviation

It’s not surprising that within the aviation industry it is new, innovative fuels like hydrogen, battery or sustainable aviation fuels that receive the most attention from commentators. After all, it’s kerosene that causes the emissions.

However, there are a whole host of small companies that have designed entirely new approaches or made changes to existing technologies – beyond fuel and that can play their part in decarbonising aviation.

One such company is Aircraft Towing Systems World Wide (ATS), which has designed an aircraft towing system, where an aircraft is towed on a small platform powered by a guiderail just below the runway’s surface.

ATS chief executive, Vince Howie, says such a system could save 100s of millions of gallons of fuel every year and reduce emissions on the ground at airports by 80%.

ATS aimed to have begun testing this summer, so hopefully some interesting results from the project will be released to the public over the next few months.

Another American start-up SE Aeronautics, has released designs for a radical six-winged airliner that – if built – could reduce a total fuel consumption by up to 70% and go from 100 billion gallons of fuel (2019) to 30 billion gallons of fuel, if the airframe is used en-masse in commercial aviation.

Airbus is also working towards super energy efficient flights through the use of SAFs, but with other non-fuel based techniques like precision flying and continuous climb and descent.

The latter could, according to Eurocontrol, save up to 340,000 tonnes of jet fuel a year and 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, through allowing planes to climb and descend more fluidly to maximise the amount of time spent at cruising speed.

Encouragingly, the Civil Aviation Authority is working on a summary of initiatives to create more flexible and efficient aircraft operations across the UK – many of which are scheduled to be in place by 2022. Altogether, these initiatives will see a reduction in fuel use of aircraft operating in UK airspace and thus, a reduction in carbon emissions. 

With so much innovation with new exciting ideas and technologies in aviation beyond fuel, net-zero flying is surely be a question of when, not if.