Qantas has announced two plans this year in direct conflict. In March, Australia’s largest airline group went publicWith the admirable goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and a 25% reduction in emissions by 2030 using new clean fuels and increasing efficiency. This was a historic moment in aviation. It contains world-leading detail and bold connections between executive pay and better sustainability.
Qantas was launched two months later. It was confirmed12 new Airbus planes are available for ultra long-distance flight, making it possible to fly nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London.
What’s the conflict? These long-distance flights must carry significantly more fuel and therefore, fewer passengers. This makes them less efficient.
This will be a backwards leap in the fight against climate change if the aviation sector follows this path. Qantas plans for these flights to be carbon-neutral, but this will require carbon offsets as there are no other options.
As the world takes climate action more seriously, flights like these will be under scrutiny.
Flying the furthest is expensive because of carbon emissions
For decades, Qantas has hoped to overcome Australia’s tyranny of distance, beginning ultra long-haul test flights as early as 1989. These tests didn’t translate into regular flights, however, leaving the door open to key competitor Singapore Airlines, which currently has the world’s top two ultra long flights.
Qantas seems determined change this. In 2025, the carrier’s new Sydney-London non-stop flight will cover 17,800km non-stop to become the world’s longest flight.
Blue-sky thinking: Net-zero aviation is more that a flight of fantasy
It may seem as though a single flight would emit less carbon dioxide, but the opposite is true.
The Most efficientBased on fuel consumed per kilometre, flights are those that travel between 3,000 and 5,500km depending on the aircraft type. However, non-stop ultralong haul flights emit more carbon emissions than shorter journeys with a stopover.
The reason is simple physics. For planes that fly ultra-long distances, they must carry a lot of fuel, especially at takeoff, in order to cover the later stages. Qantas ordered the new planes and it requires about 0.2kg fuel. transport a kiloA thousand kilometers.
Given the long distance, this means it’s not a very efficient use of fuel. The high fuel load also means that there is less space for passengers.
This results in a less favorable outcome. The metricCarbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre. For example, a non-stop flight between Auckland and Dubai of 14,193km emits 876kg of carbon dioxide per person in economy class. A similar journey with a stopover at Singapore would produce 772kg. Flight paths, freight weight, weather and other factors can all affect the exact emission rates.
So while a typical A350-900 seats between 300 and 350 passengers, Singapore Airline’s existing marathon flights using these planes can only carry half that, naemly 161 passengers. Similar to the Airbus recommendation, Qantas’ planned Qantas flights would only have 238 passengers and 112 to 172 seats less than Airbus.
As you’d expect, less passengers increases the ticket cost and makes these flights more exclusive, adding to the problem that a small wealthy elite have a Unreasonably high environmental impact.
Can long-haul travel ever be low in carbon?
Non-stop marathon flights are a hindrance to a wider shift towards a low emission world. If airlines are serious about tackling their sector’s growing contribution to fossil fuel emissions, they must look to research into alternative fuels and technologies by programs like the EU’s Clean Sky.
These programs have shown that sustainable fuels and new technology are better suited for shorter flights. In the near future, electric planes will be feasible for short flights. Sydney Electric seaplanesThe short-haul sector will soon be entered by hybrid-electric technology, which has the potential to support flights. Maximum 1500kmDepending on battery technology advancements, it could be.
What about long distance? There are two options. There are two options: hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuels.
There is no doubt that there are many. A lot of hypeThere is no clean hydrogen available at the moment. However, green hydrogen derived from renewable electricity currently makes-up the majority of clean hydrogen. Just 1%All the hydrogen we produce. To meet the aviation demand, it would take a tremendous effort.
Another challenge is hydrogen’s low energy density, which will restrict flying range to an Maximum estimatedA total of 7,000km by 2040
For long-haul flights, sustainable aviation fuel is the only option. The airline industry is banking on fuels made from biological feedstocks, which are used cooking oils and oil derived by algae.
Or Synthetically produced.
These fuels’ sustainability will depend on their feedstock, the production process (which again will require large amounts of renewable energies) and an in-depth understanding of the effects of any gases emitted on the atmosphere. These fuels will be costly and difficult to replace fossil fuels. Even so, these fuels will have to be part of aviation’s future.
New ways to travel
In response, some countries have increased their infrastructure spending for rail travel in order to encourage new travel patterns. The growing regenerative tourism movement – which emphasises deeper engagement with place and people – signals there is Real potentialTo shift mass travel from fast and far to the close-and-deep.
The role of flying in tourism has been changing already, and will continue to change in the coming years. This can be seen in the trend towards more climate-friendly travel. Soon, electric and hybrid aircraft will encourage shorter flights in a climate-constrained world.
It is hard to imagine how ultra-long-haul flights could be compatible with net zero emissions.