by Sylvain Comeau
Having conquered the skies, airports and airlines must now face the growing challenge of dealing with air and noise pollution, Geology Professor Judith Patterson said to Aviation MBA students last week.
"In the U.S., 10 per cent of CO2 production from fossil fuels used by the transport sector comes from aviation; that's predicted to climb to 13 per cent by 2010. How will the aviation industry respond to the Kyoto Protocol to cut CO2 emissions, given that they are growing by 6 per cent a year?"
Future projections on global oil supplies may also spur the industry to innovation. Patterson quoted some geologists' predictions on "the end of cheap oil."
"The peak for conventional oil production is predicted to occur in the next decade. The reason is that once you have extracted about half the oil from a field, the production starts to level off. We can do more exploring, but the areas we are exploring are more and more remote, and increasingly environmentally sensitive -- just look at the Exxon Valdez spill.
"How long will it be before we have a major accident off Hibernia? I think it's only a matter of time."
Patterson says that a long-term solution will be research into new kinds of jet engines and airport infrastructure, not more oil fields.
"There should be funds available from bodies like the World Bank for airlines in developing countries seeking funding for this kind of research. That touches on the issue of the developed versus the developing world, and whether the richer nations are willing to help the developing world become more environmentally friendly."
Patterson, who has been involved with environmental impact assessments of runway expansion (at Toronto International Airport) and emission inventories for European airports as well as Dorval, said that European airports have leaped ahead of their Canadian counterparts in responding to environmental concerns. That is largely due to stringent anti-pollution requirements and innovations in infrastructure.
"In Sweden, for example, there are differential landing fees for air pollution. If you land with an aircraft that produces heavy emissions, you will be charged for it. Airlines and airports have the choice to resist, or interact with the government environmental agency."
European airports choose to co-operate, for example, by offering noise reduction technology to long-suffering neighbourhoods surrounding airports.
"Airports can have good relations with the nearby communities, and it is a lot easier to operate when people are not picketing outside. London City Centre Airport received complaints about noise, so they installed special windows in all the houses, free of charge."
Similarly, Zurich Airport held a local referendum when they needed to expand, obtaining community approval before moving ahead with construction of a new terminal.
"That is very different from the heavy-handed, adversarial approach taken by Toronto airports. They have to battle to expand."
Faced with an increasing need to handle more people and more planes, many airports are turning to co-operative solutions to provide alternatives to air travel.
"The traditional approach has been new runways and terminals -- building more of the same. In Europe, another approach is the construction of intermodal facilities within the airport. In many airports, passengers can leave their plane and directly board high-speed rail lines to take them almost anywhere in the country or continent."
Patterson feels that airports can profit by co-operating with
rail lines, rather than treating them as mortal enemies, and
avoid compounding their noise and air pollution problems.
"It need not be competitive; think of the possibilities if
airlines were in economic co-operation with rail, a
less-polluting form of travel."