Environmental Issues for Airlines, Essay Example

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Essay

Environmental Issues for Airlines

The airline industry is heavily dependent upon natural resources. Fuel for planes is the primary resources required but building new airports requires an extensive use of many differing types of resources. New building designs and improved fuel efficiency measures will help the airline industry as it adjusts to the future travel demands of a globalized world. How the industry utilizes new building technologies, safer aircraft and better fuel conservation measures will determine which enterprises not only survive but are able to thrive in the future.

The airline industry has grown at an average pace of 5 percent over the past 25 years.  (Elias, 2007) Many uncontrollable events such as the September 11, 2001 attacks and the War on Terror have caused fluctuations in growth. As market competition increases, airlines need to work at improving service while cutting costs and increase total revenues without raising ticket prices. One effective way to utilize the advantages of globalization in the airline industry is to enter into joint ventures with foreign partners who are well acquainted with the environmental policies of other countries. New structures should involve green building technologies as airlines and airports seek to reduce their carbon footprint.  (Cento, 2011)

In an era when fuel is the most uncertain cost for airlines, future ventures must seek greater fuel efficiency from their aircraft to remain profitable and cost efficiency in all areas will serve airlines well in this new globalized era. New market ventures will have to concentrate on the areas where they have historically shown great passenger volume and maintain their competitive advantages there. People are resistant to having new airports built in their neighborhoods and those airlines adopting green building practices will go a long way toward improving public opinion as well as operational efficiency. (Cento, 2011)

Airport operations include a number of activities that affect the environment, including:

  • Operating the airplanes
  • Using airport and passenger vehicles, and airport ground service machines.
  • Cleaning and maintaining airplanes, ground service machines and other vehicles
  • Deicing and anti-icing of airplanes and landing strips.
  • Refueling and fuel storage of aircraft and other vehicles
  • Airport facility operations and maintenance
  • New construction projects (Luther, 2007)

Each of these operations has the potential to impact the environment for the airport and the surrounding community. Environmental assessments should be performed for all of these operations and updated to introduce new technology or new laws and policies.

For new construction projects, land use planning is governed by the local authorities in conjunction with the airport to promulgate land use rules that prevent or mitigate noise-sensitive operations in areas near airports. Often these land use conflicts can be resolved by taking an environmental impact approach to the construction and utilize noise management mitigation efforts that may include sound insulation or buffers in residences, businesses, schools and hospitals impacted by the new construction. In extreme cases, land acquisition efforts may be necessary, (ACI, 2007)

The primary environmental impact affected by airlines involves the use of limited petroleum resources.  Demand for oil and gasoline has never been higher and it is rising exponentially worldwide. The emerging economies of India and China demand more petroleum every day and American consumers continue to waste gasoline and diesel fuel at an alarming rate. From the ecologically disastrous Hummer to wastefully idling diesels, the United States does not use petroleum efficiently. Until most recently, stubborn congressional resistance to higher CAFÉ standards have exacerbated the abuse of oil and gas.  Industry profits are greater when a huge volume of gasoline is sold; hence the system inherently encourages waste. (Nikiforuk, 2010)

Without government interference, the demand for petroleum will only increase as time passes until the day when this finite resource can no longer be found or economically extracted and sold. The world now demands 86 million barrels of oil every day. This demand is expected to increase by nearly 35% by the year 2030. Meeting such a heavy demand will require an additional supply of over a million barrels per day each year until 2030. (Karbuz, 2008)

In addition to conserving fuel, environmental issues for airlines involve utilizing the latest environmentally friendly cabin materials that contain a high percentage of recycled content, minimize waste or otherwise environmentally friendly. Using lighter products mean less fuel consumption and less engine emissions. Aircraft and vehicles at and around airports release a number of pollutants, particularly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles (PM10) which have an impact on human health and the environment. (ACI, 2007)

Polluting discharges from deicing operations have the potential to kill marine life, foster algae blooms, and create contamination to surface and ground water. The primary chemicals used in deicing procedures are propylene glycol or ethylene glycol. In addition to possible marine life and human health problems from the toxicity of deicing and anti-icing materials, the biodegradation of propylene glycol or ethylene glycol in surface waters can greatly impact water quality, including significant reduction in dissolved oxygen levels. (Luther, 2007)

Using engine wash operations that captures and purifies wash water and allows it to be recycled for more washing greatly reduces the amount of water used in the process. Washing plane engines increases engine efficiency saves fuel and reduces carbon emissions. Other ground services can operate using more green technologies in ground support equipment utilizing electric, compressed natural gas, propane and state of the art emission control engine retrofitting for diesel usage. (ACI, 2007)

Airlines would do well to monitor aircraft noise levels and departure tracks and limit noise pollution. Public complaints about noise should be investigated and measures taken to reduce aircraft noise exposure to the public. Technological improvements, operational adjustments, infrastructure and air traffic control enhancements can all contribute to reducing airplane noise. Airlines can mitigate noise pollution where it already exists by cooperating with local residents to install soundproofing materials at homes, schools, hospitals and other businesses located close to the airport and by using land “buffers” near and around the airport. In addition, rules and policies like restrictions on certain runways, limits on the hours of airport operations, and regulating departure and landing procedures to avoid flying over heavily populated areas can decrease or eliminate noise pollution. (Luther, 2007)

The airline industry is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels to maintain their services. There is no concept of a commercially viable, solar-powered aircraft or any type of aircraft that runs on anything other than petroleum based fuels. Making the best use of fuel consumption by investing in fuel efficient aircraft will mean considerable expense outlays but will enable the company to stabilize its services into the future.  Fuel savings should recoup the investment costs eventually. (Luther, 2007)

If an airport utilizes federal funding for new construction or expansion projects, they must initiate an environmental review of the project prior to building. This requires a federal agency investigate the environmental impact of the construction in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. A federal review for environmental impact usually results in one of three conclusions:

  • Preparation of an environmental assessment; if the amount of environmental impact cannot be determined or is insignificant, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) will be issued.
  • Preparation of an environmental impact statement; if it is determined that the project’s environmental impact are considerable.
  • A ruling that the project is categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare and environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment plan. (Luther, 2007)

When building or expanding, they should apply the environmental impact assessment to govern their environmental management systems. Building green buildings means increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources such as energy, water and construction materials and reducing the buildings’ impact on the environment and human health. These objectives can be accomplished by better site locations, improved designs, construction, operation maintenance and removal – the entire life cycle of the structure. An enhanced green building concept is natural building, which focuses on the use of natural building materials available locally. (NIBS, 2012)

By adopting environmentally and energy efficient “green” designs, people who build commercial buildings can not only improve their communities but put money in their pockets as well. With conventional, petroleum-based energy costs rising faster than ever, it makes good sense to adopt green technology for all building projects, particularly on commercial properties where the bottom line is paramount.

According to NIBS (2012) there are fundamentals for sustainable green building designs that include:

Optimizing the site potential – The location, orientation, and landscaping of a commercial building impact the area’s ecosystems, transportation facilities, and energy usage. Physical security should be considered when choosing a site location. Access roads, parking, vehicle barriers, and perimeter lighting should be considered in choosing a building site.

Optimizing energy usage – Given the eventual depletion of petroleum based fuels, concerns for energy security increasing, and the effects of greenhouse gases on world climate changes, it is becoming not only necessary but also profitable to discover innovative ways to reduce load, increase efficiency, and utilize renewable energy resources in federal facilities.

Employing environmentally safe building materials – A sustainable building project should use materials that minimize environmental impacts such as climate change, resource depletion, and human exposure to toxicity. This means using products and services that have a minimal effect on human health and the environment when compared to competing products and services that do the same thing. Green buildings become more economical to sustain because they contribute to improved worker safety and health, reduce liabilities, reduce salvage and disposal costs, and are easier on ecosystems.

Protecting and conserving water – Sustained droughts in many parts of the country have severely depleted fresh water sources. A sustainable building project should minimize, control or treat site-runoff, use water conservatively, and recycle water for on-site use when safe and feasible.

Maximize indoor environmental quality – Indoor environmental quality in a building has a profound effect on occupant health, comfort, and productivity. A green building should maximize daylight usage; have effective ventilation and humidity controls; and avoid the use of construction products that have extensive volatile organic compound emissions. In the post-9/11 world, more thought is now given to ventilation and filtration to thwart the effects of a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack.

Optimize operation and maintenance functions – By considering operating and maintenance factors into the design of a building, planners will help foster improved working environments, better productivity, and minimize energy and resource expenses. Planners should favor operational systems that reduce maintenance requirements; require less water, energy, and toxic cleaning chemicals and are cost-effective while reducing life-cycle costs. (Luther, 2007)

Noise and air pollution resulting from normal operations of an airport can impact on local biodiversity.  Airport construction can also cause loss of habitat for local plant and animal species. Environmental impact assessments must be performed prior to any new or expanded construction at airports. Whenever possible, no new construction should take place on green space or where it will involve wetland areas. (Luther, 2007)

Airports generate large amounts of waste materials, including a huge proportion from operations involved in cargo handling, retail, flight catering and aircraft maintenance. Airlines should actively try to reduce waste where possible. Utilizing environmental management systems can reduce the amount of waste through recycling and other waste reduction and pollution control measures.

New airports should be designed and operated to minimize pollution as well. Pollution prevention is defined as the use of material processes or practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants and wastes at their sources. Practices that protect natural resources through conservation or efficient use or practices that cut down the use of hazardous and non-hazardous materials, energy, water or other resources. Pollution prevention is the maximum practical reduction of all wastes generated at production and distribution sites. It includes the pragmatic use of resources through source reduction, energy efficiency, reuse of input materials and reduced water usage. (Bishop, 2004)

By utilizing the latest green building technologies and the latest in fuel-efficient aircraft, the airline industry can save money and become a better corporate citizen by reducing its carbon footprint. It is not only good for the environment and the future of the planet; it means good business sense as well.  Reduced fuel usage, water recycling and less pollution mean cost savings for now and into the future.

The benefits of utilizing a sustainability program not only involve the environmental benefits and significant cost savings realized by airline passengers from the use of fuel saving measures. There can be a realizable balance between growth in the airline industry, airport expansions and protecting the environment. It will require innovation, investment and an ability to change old habits into new levels of efficiency. The industry can either become a victim to a lack of motivation and cohesion or it can cooperate with local and federal governments and the community to achieve a better and more efficient air travel network. Environmental planning need not be a costly, burdensome endeavor; it should be viewed in terms of cost savings and a better public corporate persona for the airlines.

References

Airports International Council (AIC) (2007) “Airports and the Environment,” ACI Position Brief March, PDF accessed online on July 31, 2013 at:      http://www.aci.aero/aci/aci/file/Position%20Briefs/position%20brief_ENVIRONMENT. pdf

Bishop, Paul R. (2004) “Pollution Prevention: Fundamentals and Practice,” Waveland Press, Inc., New York, April.

Cento, Alessandro (2011) “The Airline Industry: Challenges in the 21st Century (Contributions to Economics) Physica-Verlag HD, Heidelberg, December 8.

Karbuz, Sohbet, “The peak oil debate and oil companies,” Energy Bulletin, Observatoire

Mediterranean de l’Energie, January 7, 2008, accessed online on July 20, 2013 at: http://www.energybulletin.net/38910.html

Luther, Linda (2007) “Environmental Impacts of Airport Operations, Maintenance, and Expansion, CRS Report for Congress, April 5, PDF accessed online on July 31, 2013 at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33949.pdf

National Institute of Building Sciences, (NIBS) (2012) “Sustainable: Whole Building Design    Guide,” November 15, 2012, accessed online on July 20, 2013 at: http://www.wbdg.org/design/sustainable.php

Nikiforuk, Andrew (2010) “Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent” Revised edition, Greystone Books, Vancouver, B.C. Canada.

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