666wizard
Topic Author
Posts: 16
Joined: Sat Feb 05, 2005 9:51 pm

The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:42 pm

I’m a big fan of commercial aviation, and have loved flying often around the world from the UK, (furthest airport visited, SYD), and I often visit apps such as Flightradar24.

My concern is how sustainable is our favourite mode of international travel, long term? I’m not asking about the greenhouse effects of burning Jet-A (although that is also an issue), I’m just wondering how long the world can sustain the fuel consumption of the airliners that are crossing between the major continents, every day of the year (never mind the domestic and local flights)?

A quick Google search showed that a 747-400 can hold up to 165 metric tonnes of fuel, for almost 8,000 miles of range. I’m pretty sure that the 777 can hold a similar amount, and fly further, while the 787-9, with just under 80 tonnes of fuel; all can fly similar distances. I’m sure that the Airbus family would show similar improvements in fuel consumption. It’s great that fuel consumption is improving so much. However…

My question is… how long is this consumption of Jet-A sustainable? I see the hundreds of widebodies crossing the Atlantic back and forth to Europe every night (for example), and I wonder, how can the Earth keep supporting this? What is the very very long term plan for aviation, regarding fuel, with hundreds of airliners burning up to 150 tonnes of fuel each trip? There has been so much debate around the specific eco issues (such as the third runway at Heathrow); are we perhaps missing the bigger picture? I’m aware that oil gets used everyday in cars and power stations, but aviation is unique that it needs a high power / weight ratio fuel to provide the thrust needed for efficient flight.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG fan of airliners, big and small. I’m just wondering how this is a properly sustainable business for the future. Thanks all for your input.
 
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SumChristianus
Posts: 466
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2018 3:00 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 4:50 pm

I don't think electric will ever work for anything 20+ seats

The future (long term....!) is fusion power, like the compact reactor which Lockheed has been working on (mentioned in Aviation Week a few years ago)
Would be hard to persuade travelers to take that up though.....
Aviation also uses only a tiny percentage, > 7% of world oil consumption, so it is definitely not a short-term problem.
Humanity, with its incredibly designed mind, if it maintains populations (doesn't crash and burn like Russian/Japan are already experiencing with falling birthrates/rising deathrates, will find a solution.

I trust in the ingenuity of a future Tesla, Edison, Wright, etc.

Who knows maybe someone will invent a repelatron! (Tom Swift series)
A Traddie wannaby---UA DL LH NW AA --- Next IND-SFO-IND UA A320/B739
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FriscoHeavy
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Joined: Tue May 27, 2014 4:31 pm

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:21 pm

It's very sustainable. Think of how far we've come in 100 years. If you look forward 100 years or so, there will be many advances. Also, Aviation fuel burn is but a very small amount of overall fuel burn (~5%). So while the numbers you quote sound huge (Tons of Fuel), it's really a drop in the bucket compared to the world's consumption. Like everything, it will evolve over time.
Whatever
 
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PatrickZ80
Posts: 2344
Joined: Tue Jul 13, 2010 5:33 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:31 pm

Airliners of today already consume far less fuel than airliners of several decades ago. This evolution will continue, along with other techniques becoming available. I think for a while we'll see hybrid powered aircraft, partly on traditional fuel and partly on new techniques like maybe hydrogen. As time evolves the use of traditional fuel will become less and the use of new techniques will become more, until one day we'll see an airliner that doesn't need traditional fuel anymore. But it won't be a revolution, it'll be part of evolution. It's just a continuation of the process working towards it.
 
SteelChair
Posts: 267
Joined: Fri Aug 25, 2017 11:37 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:51 pm

Those with a Malthusian outlook always prognosticate gloom and doom....yet we always seem to keep coming up with solutions. Just a few years ago, "peak oil" sparked a world wide economic slowdown, yet solutions have been found and the last few years have seen an economic boom.

There is no master plan....there are significant unknowns ahead but I do not discount the ability of the human race to adapt so long as we can keep soul robbing collectivism and political correctness at bay.
 
ptcflyer
Posts: 110
Joined: Fri Apr 13, 2001 12:03 pm

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:53 pm

The sustainability of the "growth" of the airline industry relies VERY heavily on two major commodities. Relatively Cheap Fuel.... and Cheap money. ... and to an extent cheap labor. I fear that during the past 8 years.. the industry growth has been supported with an abundance of all three. The price sensitivity of the flying public will determine the financial viability of the industry when the price of the above commodities change.
 
2175301
Posts: 1172
Joined: Wed May 16, 2007 11:19 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 5:56 pm

Unless there is a truly major change in technology... hydrocarbon based fuels (in the kerosene area) will continue to fuel the aviation world. If necessary, hydrogen will be converted into hydrocarbon form to do this.

The key reason is energy density in a usable form. A ton of hydrocarbon packs a huge amount of energy in a form that is easily used. Batteries will never come close to the energy density (perhaps 1/10th at its best). Hydrogen itself requires heavy pressure vessels to carry any mass amount of it which rule that out for aviation.

While it is possible to look at the energy density charts of various fuels and see other possibilities in the required energy density range; they all tend to be rather difficult or dangerous to handle in comparison to hydrocarbon or are toxic chemicals with many of those with highly toxic combustion byproducts.

I find it amazing that people who talk about theoretical fusion reactors tend to forget about the needed radiation shielding/ Yes - fusion reactors produce radiation, although not as much as the common fission reactors. Also, that you would need some kind of cycle to move the heat from the reactor core to the "turbine" process air-stream; or to convert the heat into electricity - which adds space and weight.

Hydrocarbons have multiple major advantages for aerospace.

Have a great day,
 
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ER757
Posts: 2982
Joined: Tue May 10, 2005 10:16 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:59 pm

2175301 wrote:
Unless there is a truly major change in technology... hydrocarbon based fuels (in the kerosene area) will continue to fuel the aviation world. If necessary, hydrogen will be converted into hydrocarbon form to do this.

The key reason is energy density in a usable form. A ton of hydrocarbon packs a huge amount of energy in a form that is easily used. Batteries will never come close to the energy density (perhaps 1/10th at its best). Hydrogen itself requires heavy pressure vessels to carry any mass amount of it which rule that out for aviation.

While it is possible to look at the energy density charts of various fuels and see other possibilities in the required energy density range; they all tend to be rather difficult or dangerous to handle in comparison to hydrocarbon or are toxic chemicals with many of those with highly toxic combustion byproducts.

I find it amazing that people who talk about theoretical fusion reactors tend to forget about the needed radiation shielding/ Yes - fusion reactors produce radiation, although not as much as the common fission reactors. Also, that you would need some kind of cycle to move the heat from the reactor core to the "turbine" process air-stream; or to convert the heat into electricity - which adds space and weight.

Hydrocarbons have multiple major advantages for aerospace.

Have a great day,

Very nice summary and spot on IMO. To allay some concerns by the O.P. regarding the use of petroleum based fuels for aviation, there are still healthy reserves in many places in the world. The "end of oil" that was heralded years ago turned out to be premature. As others forms of transportation and electricity generation move away from oil, it leaves more for the applications where it is essential such as Jet-A. So I do not believe fuel scarcity for aviation will be a factor for many, many years to come.
 
burnsie28
Posts: 5171
Joined: Mon Aug 02, 2004 1:49 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:03 pm

MPG or for non-US folks, KPL on planes per pax is far better than driving most cars. So on a per person basis, airplanes are fare more efficient.
 
Chemist
Posts: 267
Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:46 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:05 pm

IMO this is a can of worms far beyond aviation. The earth can only sustain so much. Humanity is destroying most other species and our even-current lifestyle is IMHO unsustainable for more than say a century. I suspect the population will drastically decline one way or another in the medium-distant future. We're probably good the way we're going for perhaps 20-30 years or so.
 
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kanban
Posts: 3823
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 1:00 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 7:09 pm

While aviation will continue into the distant future, the continued growth will probably taper off. I read some where the the continued growth of the middle class will drives aviation use, except the growth is minimal . So the belief all people will want to fly somewhere is questionable.. I know many who are not interested and others that can't. OEMs can only evolve new technologies so fast and airlines are pushing for more robust aircraft with longer life expectancies.
 
Planesmart
Posts: 2791
Joined: Sun Dec 05, 2004 3:18 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:22 pm

If you consider a route with an average 70% load factor, there are significant opportunities to improve efficiency by right-sizing aircraft and reducing the number of flights.

With changes in monopoly and collusion legislation, it would be possible for one aircraft to fly customers from multiple airlines, something two of the three airline alliances are keen to be centre stage.

Rationalisation will also occur through merger. How many years before we see a mega airline, incorporating a US3/EU3/ME3 combo?

CORSIA and CORSIA-related initiatives will counter increased frequencies, and unfortunately, customer choice. ICAO has already identified anti-competitive legislation as an impediment to realising CORSIA objectives.
 
workhorse
Posts: 334
Joined: Sun Jul 10, 2005 11:35 pm

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:28 pm

Lots of good answers here.

I would add that when there's no more oil we will have a lot of more important things to worry about, such as plastic (no more Dreamliners and A350s!), a good part of our clothes etc.

Now if as a mind game we imagine a time where there's no more hydrocarbon-based fuel available at all (and the humanity is still there) we might see the return of the dirigeables. Filled with helium, propelled by electric-driven propellers (electricity coming from batteries charged from ground based nuclear power plants). This will be SLOW but probably still better than sailing.
 
Curiousflyer
Posts: 506
Joined: Sun Oct 22, 2006 3:19 am

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Wed Jun 13, 2018 9:28 pm

I think aviation faces other competitors, in particular a decline in business travel if remote work possibilities keep improving. From a pollution perspective, I wonder if slower hybrid planes can take over some of the sort-haul flying. For long-haul, it is mesmerizing that the A380 is not a bigger success, it should fly on all the busiest routes to allow decreasing frequencies. For example it is ridiculous that BA cannot fly 380s between JFK and LHR just because they cannot get the right gates at JFK, meanwhile they have flights scheduled pretty much every hour with 777s and 747s, which makes no sense given how unpredictable the actual length of a log-haul trip between hubs will actually be, with the impact of congestion, weather, tech issues etc.
 
LH707330
Posts: 1888
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2012 11:27 pm

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:35 am

We're going to hit 450 ppm before we run out of oil, so the best bet is getting drop-in alternative jet fuels (AJF) scaled up, ideally with the help of externality pricing. When you consider all the true costs of CO2 and environmental destruction from oil extraction, the price of it is way too low. Bake that in and AJF starts becoming more compelling pretty quickly.
 
DfwRevolution
Posts: 9140
Joined: Sat Jan 09, 2010 7:31 pm

Re: The long term sustainability of aviation

Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:49 am

666wizard wrote:
My question is… how long is this consumption of Jet-A sustainable? I see the hundreds of widebodies crossing the Atlantic back and forth to Europe every night (for example), and I wonder, how can the Earth keep supporting this? What is the very very long term plan for aviation, regarding fuel, with hundreds of airliners burning up to 150 tonnes of fuel each trip? There has been so much debate around the specific eco issues (such as the third runway at Heathrow); are we perhaps missing the bigger picture? I’m aware that oil gets used everyday in cars and power stations, but aviation is unique that it needs a high power / weight ratio fuel to provide the thrust needed for efficient flight.


We are not running out of oil. Ever. All of the crude oil produced in the last hundred years is something like one-tenth of the known "unconventional" oil that became economic to produce since 2008. In practical terms, depletion will never occur.

The human brain has evolved a keen sense of scarcity as a survival mechanism. But the volume of commodities available on a geolocial scale just totally defy human comprehension. Our brains can't process numbers that big.
I have a three post per topic limit. You're welcome to have the last word.

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