Is Flying Dying? No, It Is Growing Faster Than Ever

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It's expected that by 2037 the number of people flying will double.

We do go on about the carbon emissions from flying and really, I do feel guilty every time I get on a plane, and am trying to do it less often. But the rest of the world is doing it a lot more often; according to William Wilkes in Bloomberg,

Airplane pollution, which has risen by about two-thirds since 2005, is forecast to jump as much as sevenfold by 2050 as incomes in developing economies advance, making flying more affordable for hundreds of millions if not billions of people, according to the Montreal-based ICAO. The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, the industry’s biggest trade group, expects the number of airline passengers to double by 2037, to more than 8 billion a year.

Wilkes notes that the number of planes in the air will double, and there will be a 50 percent gain in the number of private planes.

All of these forecasts are terrifying climate scientists and activists who say increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are leading to rising temperatures, more extreme weather and higher death tolls from natural disasters caused at least in part by human activity.

Planes are getting better all the time, using lighter materials and more efficient engines. But this is all being overwhelmed by the increase in numbers of people flying. Wilkes says that electric planes might work some day for short haul flights, but that "an emissions-free solution for long-haul flights, on the other hand, will likely remain elusive for decades to come."

Meanwhile, Wilkes also writes that Ryanair just became the first airline to become one of the top ten polluters in Europe.

Ryanair was ninth on the list of top polluters in Europe. The remaining slots in the top 10 were taken by utilities that generate electricity from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Others are far more optimistic. In Vancouver, Harbour Air is swapping electric engines into their Beavers.

electric flight


In Germany, Andreas Klöckner of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) says it will be much better and even cheaper.

First of all, purely electric flight is locally emission-free, which means that the aircraft itself does not emit any pollutants. Second, both production and maintenance of electric propulsion systems are expected to cost less, thanks to the reduced number of moving parts. And the third advantage is that electric propulsion enables completely new aircraft configurations, which should further reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise levels.

Alas, none of this is likely to be in place by 2037, by which time there are twice as many people in the air. And of course, there is no mention of that IPCC 2030 deadline, by which time we have to cut our emissions by 45 percent. Over a decade ago we were writing about how flying was dying, that we couldn't do it anymore, quoting George Monbiot: "If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit."

But it doesn't seem that very many of us got the memo.