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Indian Institute of Space Science

and Technology
CH-311 Environmental Science and

Impact of aviation industry on


Shubham Maurya

Dr. KG Sreejalekshmi

September 28, 2015


Flight through air requires sufficient thrust to overcome drag and gravity
and hence the role of propulsion comes into play. Since the first flight of
mankind by Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903, aviation has progressed
at an astonishing rate to become a key contributor of growth in developed
countries. Because of the success of aviation industries, flight operations
consume increasing amounts of fuel and produce more emissions and noise.
Nowadays, fossil fuel emissions and noise generated by aircraft are major
source of environmental pollution. The estimated growth in the aviation
sector in near future would further increase global emissions and the effect
of emissions at high altitudes would also be more pronounced.

Environmental issues

The following are the environmental impacts contributed by aviation industry

which need to be tackled before its too late.
takeoff and approach noise (Jet engines in aircraft produce very high
intensity sound. Supersonic planes produces shock waves and produce
unbearable noise to nearby habitation.)
flyover noise resulting from aircraft cruising at high altitudes.
sonic booms and hyperbooms (i.e., the thermospherically refracted and
very low intensity remains of sonic booms)
noise by taxiing and engine run-ups.
fuel dumping
emission of Carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen in
the airport area (typically below 3,000 feet)
contrail formation
emissions of CO2
emissions in the upper troposphere and stratosphere (from both subsonic and supersonic aircraft) of water vapor, NOx, sulphur particles,

Figure 1: Contrail formation by exhaust gases of jet engine over Antarctica

and carbon particles. Ozone depletion is also attributed to NOx emissions.
potential for greenhouse effects and depletion of stratospheric ozone


Climate change

Emissions from flight vehicles are quantified by estimating radiative forcing

and global warming potential of pollutants.
Radiative forcing is defined as The change in average radiation (in
Watts per square metre: W/m2) at the top of the tropopause resulting from
a change in either solar or infrared radiation due to a change in atmospheric
greenhouse gases concentrations; perturbance in the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation.[1]
GWP (Global Warming Potential) is defined as the cumulative radiative forcing effects of a gas over a specified time horizon resulting from
the emission of a unit mass of gas relative to a reference gas.[1]
Aviation climate impacts are due to both carbon dioxide and non-carbon
dioxide emissions (see Figure 2). The non-CO2 emissions include water vapor (H2 O), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulpfur oxides (SOx), hydrocarbons (HC),
and black carbon (or soot) particles. Climate impacts of CO2 emissions are

Figure 2: Schematic representation of aircraft emissions and their causal linkages with potential climate and social welfare impacts. Note that both the
level of scientific uncertainties and policy relevance increase from characterization of emissions to social damage attributions. (Adapted from Wuebbles
et al., 2007 )
well characterized and are independent of source location due to its relatively
long atmospheric lifetime. On the other hand, non-CO2 climate impacts of
aviation emissions are quite variable in space and time. The primary factor
for non-CO2 emissions from aircraft is that the largest portion of these emissions are emitted in the flight corridors throughout the upper troposphere
and lower stratosphere at altitudes of 8 km to 13 km ( 26,000-40,000 ft ).
The lifetime of the associated atmospheric changes ranges from minutes for
contrails, to years for changes in methane.[1]
The only greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are CO2 and water
vapours: other emissions, e.g. NOx and particles cause changes in radiative

Figure 3: Radiative forcings from aviation emissions (gases and aerosols) in

1992 as estimated by the IPCC
forcing (RF) but are not contributors to global warming effect. Emissions
of water vapour from current subsonic aviation are small and contribute (directly) albeit in a negligibly small manner to global warming. Total CO2 aviation emissions is approximately 2% of the Global Greenhouse Emissions.[2]
From Fig.3, we observe that CO2, contrails and ozone formation (due to
NOx emissions in tropopause) contribute to positive radiative forcing i.e.,
they heat up the atmosphere.


Noise pollution

A moving aircraft including its jet engine or propeller causes compression

and rarefaction of the air, producing motion of air molecules. These pressure
disturbances are propagated as sound. If these pressure waves lie within
the audible range of humans, a sensation of hearing is produced. Different
aircrafts have noise levels with different intensity and frequencies. The noise
originates from two main sources:
Aerodynamic noise -Aerodynamic noise results from flow of air around
fuselage and control surfaces. It is same as fluttering sound heard when
a rod or stick is swung through air at high speeds. This type of noise

increases with aircraft speed and altitude. The noise is more at lower
altitudes because of higher density of air.
Engine and mechanical noises- the majority of engine noise is due to
jet noise. The high velocity air jet leaving through the engine exhaust
has significant shear layer instability that rolls up into ring vortices.
The eventual breaking of these vortices causes turbulence and sound is
There are several health consequences of elevated sound levels. It can
cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance,
sleep disturbance, and decreased school performance. Although some hearing
loss occurs naturally with age, in many developed nations the impact of
noise is sufficient to impair hearing over the course of a lifetime. Elevated
noise levels can create stress, increase workplace accident rates, and stimulate
aggression and other anti-social behaviors.[3].


Solving environmental issues

Dealing with emissions

Biofuels extracted from sustainable oil crops such as jatropha, camelina

and algae or from wood and waste biomass can reduce the overall carbon
footprint by around 80% over their full lifecycle. Test flights using biofuels
have been carried out by dozens of airlines and have proven that biofuels
work and can be mixed with existing jet fuel. [4]
Once economically viable and commercially available at scale, biofuels
could improve local air quality and reduce aviation-related life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, advancing aviations longstanding commitment
to minimize environmental impact
Varying height and speed of aircraft reduces emissions and saves
fuel. A recent study has revealed that aircraft crossing the Atlantic can
save between one and two per cent of the fuel costs per flight by varying
their speeds and heights they fly, according to the latest results of a trial
conducting by air navigation service providers in Canada and the UK and
five partner airlines. This translates to a reduction of 200 to 400 litres of fuel
corresponding to 525 to 1,050 kilograms of GHG emissions. With close to

Figure 4: Noise-reducing chevrons on a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 turbofan

400,000 flights each year, the potential economic and environmental benefits
are substantial. [5]
Drag reduction by winglets can reduce induced drag which consumes
majority of the fuel.


Countering noise pollution

High bypass ratio engines reduce noise significantly. Modern high-bypass

turbofan engines, for example, are quieter than the turbojets.
Acoustic damping by sound absorption materials including foams, fibers,
membranes, perforated panels, etc. These materials have good noise reduction abilities at the high frequency range, but exhibit few sound absorption
properties in the low- and medium-frequency range (250-2000 Hz) in which
human sensitivity to noise is fairly high. The aviation industry is currently
using traditional materials such as perforated panel, fibers, and foam for
noise reduction with limited results. Compared to these traditional materials, electrospun nanofibers exhibit high absorption coefficients in almost all
frequency ranges.
Contours on land near runway if properly designed can reduce the
noise levels by destructive interference of sound. The settlement near airports
would be highly benefited by this method.

[1] Aviations Contribution to Climate Change, ICAO Environment report
[2] IPCC Fourth Assessment report(AR4):Climate Change (2007), Geneva,
[3] Kryter, Karl D. (1994). The handbook of hearing and the effects of noise:
physiology, psychology, and public health. Boston: Academic Press ISBN
[4] IATA Sustainable Alternative FuelAdvocacy, 1st edition, 2015
[5] AIRE: Delivering Green results through partnershipWebsite: