Air Transportation

Air transportation in 2012 used around 260 Mtoe of energy, or 11% of the total consumption by the transportation sector. According to the International Energy Agency (2014), the figure should rise up to 600 Mtoe by 2035 and represent 18% of total consumption. Air transportation is expanding fast. OECD countries represented in 2005 two thirds of world air transportation; they should correspond to one third in 2050, to the benefit of the rest of the world, particularly Asia (© OECD/IEA, Transport 2009).

Energy consumption is at the heart of the productivity of this segment. The energy consumption of the new Boeing 787 is around 1.3 MJ/seat/km. This needs to be compared to the one of the Boeing 767 which it replaces, which is around 1.9 MJ/seat/km. This represents an annual saving of around 7 million liters of fuel, or 6.4 million dollars. Over the lifetime of the plane (around 30 years), this corresponds to significant savings (# OECD/IEA, Transport 2009). The increase of energy efficiency in air transportation thus has a direct impact on the segment’s profitability.

Over the last 30 years, the consumption of fuel has been reduced on average by 35% (and 75% of the noise). Still, a lot remains to be done.

According to experts, propulsion systems could be optimized by another 15-20%. While innovations centered on motorization are essential, improved aerodynamics and reducing the weight of airplanes (using new carbon fiber materials for instance) bring the most benefits (around 20-30% less energy).

Changing the way air transportation is managed could also lead to 7-10% of additional energy savings. The improvement of air traffic control systems could help speed up the landing time of airplanes, in particular adopting a continuous descent slope (against a step-down today), which would reduce fuel consumption. Large “hubs” would also be helpful, by creating less direct routes and more flight connections. Profitability of air transportation is very much related to passenger occupancy and the “hubs” are essentially designed to maximize airplanes’ occupancy. Any development against the use of “hubs” would hamper the development capability of airline companies and is thus very unlikely. Finally, the optimal distance in terms of fuel consumption is around 5000 km (# OECD/IEA, Transport 2009). This distance is calculated between the necessary overconsumption at the time of the takeoff and landing, and the necessity to carry important quantities of fuel over a long route. The reduction of the number of long-haul flights, split into a multitude of 5000 km routes, could lead to an overall fuel consumption reduction for the air transportation segment.

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