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The Environment & the Aviation Industry

The Environment & the Aviation Industry

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Brian Egan. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Engineering at University of Limerick, with lecturer Dr. David Newport in the category of Engineering and Mechanical Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Brian Egan. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Engineering at University of Limerick, with lecturer Dr. David Newport in the category of Engineering and Mechanical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Student I.D. No:
The Environment & the Aviation Industry
1.0 Introduction
Over the past number of years, the impact of the aviation industry on the environment hasbeen highlighted by many research groups. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) has carried out a significant amount of research into the subject of climate change,and has paid close attention to the role of the aviation industry in this phenomenon. In thefollowing report the impact of aviation emissions on global warming is investigated. Thevarious elements present in aircraft engine emissions are presented, and the manner in whichcertain elements (namely CO
and water) affect the earth’s environment is discussed. Noisepollution is also a focus of this report, with an overview given of the emerging technologiesused to tackle the issue. In addition, the constant descent approach (CDA), which minimisesthe effect of noise pollution on final approach is described.Future reductions in aviation emissions, and indeed noise reductions, are heavily dependenton the introduction of ‘green’ aircraft. A brief overview of the state of the world’s naturalresources sets the importance of this technology in context. However the introduction of ‘green’ aircraft poses many challenges in terms of design and maintenance. Compositestructures can require highly technical inspection techniques leading to more cumbersomemaintenance checks. Nonetheless, composite materials are finding increased use in aircraftstructures leading to new technologies being introduced in aircraft maintenance.
2.0 Climate Change, Noise Pollution & Aviation
The Earth is heated by solar energy from the Sun. Of the rays that strike the planet, a certainamount of energy is radiated back into space, while the ground itself is also seen to radiateheat. In general there is a balance between the amount of energy being absorbed by the planetand that being radiated away. “When a particular human activity alters greenhouse gases,particles, or land albedo, such activity results in radiative imbalance” (IPCC, 1999). It iswidely known that the burning of fossil fuels causes increases in the amount of CO
presentin the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, “added CO
increases the infrared opaqueness of the atmosphere thereby reducing terrestrial cooling with little impact on solar heating”.Though temperatures in the atmosphere adjust in order to restore the balance of heating andcooling, emissions in the stratosphere are seen to have a more significant effect globalclimate. ‘Radiative forcing’ is a measure of the radiative imbalance in the earth’senvironment. A ‘positive RF’ is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases (which leads toa rise in temperature).Aircraft engines produce emissions when burning fuel. In addition to CO
, aircraft enginesalso emit water vapour, nitrus oxides, sulphate and soot. Emissions from aircraft are seen tobe a significant contributor to global warming. The IPCC estimates that aviation accounts forabout 3.5% of the total human contribution to climate change. Though this figure is relativelysmall, “the projected growth in air travel, means emissions from aviation will rise at a timewhen there are targets to significantly reduce CO
emissions from the economy” (BAA,2007).
Figure 1 Breakdown of emissions from the combustion process in an aircraft engine – IPCC (1999).
3Condensation trails (contrails), which are caused due to the emission of H
O are of particularconcern to environmentalists. Contrails “consist primarily of water droplets and ice, and areformed when water vapour released from burning jet fuel condense at higheraltitudes” (David Suzuki Foundation, 2009). A cluster of contrails in busy airspace is shownin fig. 2 below. The effect of contrails is “to trap heat that would otherwise escape from theearth, which contributes to global warming”. During the day, contrails present in the Earth’satmosphere also serve to reflect some of the Sun’s heat (reducing the net heating). Howeverthis effect is obviously not present at night. According to a report carried out at theUniversity of Leeds (2006), “even though only one in four flights over the UK occur duringthe night, these flights are responsible for at least 60% of the climate warming associatedwith aircraft”. As a result of this, night time flying restrictions could help to reduce the effectof aviation activities on climate change.
Figure 2 An example of contrails caused by aircraft flights – David Suzuki Foundation (2009).
The fuel consumption of an aircraft is seen to be heavily dependent on its weight. For thisreason efforts are made by airlines to reduce weight can reduce the impact of aviation onglobal emissions, and save money on fuel costs. For a typical jet aircraft, “100kg of excessweight requires an additional 5000 kg of fuel per aircraft per year” (Airbus, 2004). Thedesign of an aircraft only plays a part in achieving reductions in fuel burn. Airlines may alsoachieve efficiency through:
Avoiding excess weight such as rubbish, unnecessary equipment and additionalsupplies.
Adopting climb, cruise and descent that minimise fuel burn.
Adding as little fuel reserves as possible, while adhering to regulations of the relevantauthority.
Keeping the aircraft ‘aerodynamically clean’.
Loading the aircraft correctly to achieve a desirable CG position. (Airbus, 2004)

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