Boeing has raised its projection for aircraft sales. The company expects the number of airline passengers to double in the next 20 years, creating demand for nearly 37,000 new planes and a $5.2 trillion market.
Many of those new planes will go to developing countries, especially in Asia, where air travel is taking off as incomes rise. The boom also means a lot more jet fuel will be burned, with an increase in CO2 emissions.
Much of the increased air travel over the next few years will be domestic flights within Asia on smaller, single-aisle planes like Boeing’s 737.
“When you have a smaller aircraft like that and shorter flights, you see an increase in emissions per head,” says Worldwatch Institute project manager Mark Konold.
Emissions from the airline industry could double by 2020 and quadruple by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It’s difficult to predict the exact amount of fuel that a 737 burns on each trip. There are nine variants in the equation, says aerospace engineer Magdy Attia. “A good estimate for the fuel burn is between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of fuel per hour at cruise."
Attia says new advances in engine technology could increase fuel efficiency by 12 to 15 percent. That would mean substantial savings for airlines. Fuel makes up about half their expenses. But the reduction in emissions would likely be offset by increased air traffic. Air travel currently produces between two and three percent of global CO2 emissions.
Randy Tinseth is vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He says Boeing has made gains in fuel efficiency with recent models. “We are building 737 next-generation airplanes which we call the 737 MAX.”
The 737 MAX is 14 percent more fuel efficient than the previous generation of 737’s. But it’s unclear how many of the new planes Boeing sells will be the more efficient model.
Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace