Today saw an historic development on the path towards a sustainable future for air travel. The UN’s aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), through its sub-committee, the Committee on Environment Protection (CAEP), has just agreed on the formulation of a CO2 standard for new aircraft. Following this recommendation from CAEP, the standard will be formally adopted by the ICAO Council. This standard has been about six in the making and the whole industry has welcomed the final deal today.

As readers of this blog will know well, aviation has always been an innovative sector and improving fuel efficiency is without doubt one of the main concerns of manufacturers and airlines, behind safety. A cursory look at aircraft fuel efficiency statistics over the decades shows the extent of this efficiency evolution. Today’s next-generation aircraft are around 70% more fuel efficient than the first generation of jet aircraft (and that’s just the technological improvement – other efficiency measures have bumped this improvement even further). These great strides in efficiency have come through market-driven design and technology improvements and what this standard does is consolidate, formalise and build upon this good work, setting a baseline beneath which no new aircraft can fall.

So, how exactly does the CO2 standard work? Well, it will cover both entirely new models of aircraft that come into service from 2020, as well as any existing ‘in production’ aircraft that come off the production line after 2023. There has also been a production cut-off date set for any aircraft that do not meet the standard by 2028. Together, this means that the standard will cover almost all commercial aircraft in the world.

All in all, the deal reached was a good one, with the right balance struck between environmental ambition and engineering reality. This is a big year for the sustainability of aviation and the action starts now!