Every year, thousands of people travel by plane. The rise of cheap airlines has made air travel even more accessible and has made weekend city breaks an appealing option for many people. However, air travel is the least environmentally friendly form of transportation in existence. Even though planes tend to carry a large number of people, the amount of air pollution that they produce is higher, per capita, than any other major transportation types. In the European Union alone, emissions from the aviation industry increased by 87% from 1990 to 2005.
The types of emissions that are created by aeroplane engines are very similar to those that are produced by the internal combustion engines in cars and vans. However, the levels of emissions that are produced are far higher than those created by small vehicles. The principal greenhouse gas which is produced by the combustion of aeroplane fuel is carbon dioxide, however a range of other harmful substances are released as well. These substances include; nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, incombustible hydrocarbons and radicals like hydroxyl. Fine particles emissions like soot and time sulphate particles are released in their trillions. These particles can cause respiratory illness when found in high enough concentrations. The greenhouse gases which are released have previously caused acid rain.
Part of the problem with aeroplanes is where they produce their emissions. Airliners tend to fly at high altitude, but this could make the effects of emissions far worse. Research has shown that emissions which are released in the upper atmosphere are likely to be present for decades longer than similar emissions that are released at ground level. Even the water vapour that is produced as part of the combustion process is harmful when it is released into the upper atmosphere. The upper atmosphere is traditionally a drier part of the atmosphere, so introducing larger amounts of water to the region has a negative effect. These chemical reactions are thought to be contributing to the global warming process. Contrails, which are formed from the frozen water vapour from the plane’s exhausts, have been observed to alter the formation patterns of natural clouds. Scientists are, as yet, unsure about the effects that this might have on weather patterns.
Despite the fact that you are likely to see taxes and levies attached to your airline bills, the airline industry is still taxed far less than other transportation types or major environmental polluter. Airline fuel is currently taxed in a different way to the way that road vehicle fuel is taxed, which means that airlines pay a smaller tax bill for the same amount of fuel. Global tax laws on fuel mean that the problems are further exacerbated. Building a better model of taxation could help to reduce the amount of air travel in Europe but in reality talk is cheap.
How can we help to stop this problem?
Travellers should be prepared to consider their carbon footprints before they set off on a journey. Being more aware of the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by air travel, and the effects that this carbon dioxide has on the environment, could help people to reconsider whether their travel is necessary. Even if awareness campaigns only reduced the number of travellers by a small amount, it could help to start the process of reducing our levels of consumption.
At present, there is a growing trend for people to take advantage of “slow travel” methods, such as trains or buses. Although these vehicles do produce emissions, they are estimated to produce fewer emissions per capita than those which are produced by planes. Travellers who are going to destinations within Europe (especially Western Europe) are encouraged to consider using slow transport methods instead of flying. Depending on where you live in the United Kingdom, it can actually be much quicker to get the train to Paris than it would be to fly there. If the amount of time that it takes to get to the airport and go through security is factored in, using the train can cut travel time considerably. It is also worth remembering that the train goes right to the heart of Paris, so passengers are ready to go as soon as they disembark the train.
Businesses also need to rethink why they are sending employees to business meetings abroad. These meetings usually only last a few hours maximum and employees are rarely given the time to enjoy their destination before they need to board a flight home. Sending employees to business meetings creates a huge carbon footprint and wastes a lot of employee time. The employee is also likely to be tired when they arrive at the meeting and therefore not at the top of their game. Video conference technology is continuing to improve and should start to be considered by companies as a more viable alternative.