Roadmap Towards Climate Neutral Aviation

The Roadmap „Towards Climate-Neutral Aviation“ by Ralf Fücks (Zentrum Libe­rale Moderne), Mat­thias von Randow (Chief Exe­cu­tive of the BDL) and Volker Thum (Chief Exe­cu­tive of the BDLI) sum­ma­ri­zes the results of a series of dis­cus­sions with members of the Bun­des­tag, the repre­sen­ta­tives of federal and state minis­teries, the avia­tion indus­try and inde­pen­dent experts. The key finding is that making air travel com­pa­ti­ble with climate pro­tec­tion is a rea­listic goal. However, a successful tran­si­tion to climate-neutral air travel can only be achie­ved if science, industry, airlines, airports, and political actors join their efforts. An appro­priate regu­la­tory frame­work for avia­tion and a major effort to develop tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions to market matu­rity are needed now. 



Air travel is the transport infra­struc­ture of our glob­al­ized world – a physical world wide web. It enables personal encoun­ters across national borders. It makes politics, business, science, culture, and sports more inter­na­tional. It is also the means of transport of global tourism. Migrants visit their families, students use oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­na­tional exchange, and non-govern­mental orga­ni­za­tions also network globally. Video confer­ences and video chats can only ever be partial substi­tutes for face-to-face encounters.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic drop in passenger numbers, plunging the aviation industry into dire crisis, the evolution of passenger numbers knew only one direction: upwards. Between 2013 and 2018, aviation volumes in the European Union increased by 26 percent. In 2019, about 4.5 billion passen­gers travelled by air worldwide, a figure that was projected to double to about 9 billion by 2040.

The COVID-19 crisis caused an unprece­dented collapse of air traffic. A large portion of European airlines are currently in the red. The industry’s financial strength is waning. Demand for new, more envi­ron­men­tally friendly aircraft has plummeted dras­ti­cally, which heightens the urgent need to promote climate-friendly inno­va­tions in air transport within the framework of the “European Green Deal” and other govern­ment programs.

It is virtually impos­sible to predict with any degree of reli­a­bility how quickly aviation will recover from the COVID-19 crisis and how it will evolve in the future. From a global perspec­tive, however, demand for air transport will grow again. With rising incomes in devel­oping countries and their inte­gra­tion into the global economy, private and commer­cial air travel will increase in the long term. A growing global middle class also means a growing number of potential air passengers.

This is why it is so important to make air travel climate-neutral. Today, air traffic is causing about three percent of global CO2 emissions. Its actual contri­bu­tion to the green­house effect, however, is greater due to addi­tional climate effects (nitrogen oxides, water vapor, etc.). The IPCC puts the contri­bu­tion of aviation to total green­house gas effects at up to five percent. Given the global trend, radically restricting air traffic is not a realistic option. It might be discussed in a country like Germany. It is not even up for debate in China, India, the US, and aspiring devel­oping countries.

At the same time, however, aviation – like all other economic sectors – has committed itself to the goal of climate neutrality. This move towards climate-neutral air travel offers great oppor­tu­ni­ties for Germany and Europe to become pioneers of a future industry, from aircraft construc­tion and propul­sion tech­nology to the produc­tion of climate-neutral fuels at an indus­trial scale.

Avenues Towards Climate-Neutral Air Traffic

In this context, the Zentrum Liberale Moderne, the German Air Transport Asso­ci­a­tion (BDL) and the German Aerospace Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion (BDLI) held a series of talks with members of the German Bundestag, repre­sen­ta­tives of federal and state ministries, and scien­tific experts throughout 2020. Our focus was on avenues towards climate-neutral air travel and the political course we need to set to attain this target. The following is a summary of our key takeaways from this series of talks, our “Roadmap Towards Sustain­able Air Travel”.

Our key finding is that making air travel compat­ible with climate protec­tion is a realistic goal. There is a broad consensus between the aviation industry, science, and politics on the potential for climate-neutral air travel. The question is no longer “whether”, but “how”, i. e. with which concrete measures and instru­ments, we can reconcile climate policy goals with a func­tioning inter­na­tional aviation system.

You can download a PDF-version of the Roadmap Towards Climate-Neutral Air Travel here.


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