Saturday, May 10, 2008

Airline Emissions Much Higher Than Previously Thought

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

The Independent, a British newspaper, has a report on a study presented at an FAA conference recently that claims air travel is a significantly larger contributor of carbon emissions to the atmosphere than previously assumed:

An unpublished study by the world's leading experts has revealed that airlines are pumping 20 per cent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than estimates suggest, with total emissions set to reach between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion tonnes annually by 2025.

The report, by four government-funded research bodies, is one of the most authoritative estimates of the growth of pollutants produced by the industry. It was presented to a conference co-organised by the United States' Federal Aviation Authority but not given a wider audience.

Combining data produced by the leading emissions-modelling laboratories in the US, Britain and France, the study found that the number of people seriously affected by aircraft noise will rise from 24 million in 2000 to 30.3 million by 2025, despite the introduction of quieter jets, and that the amount of nitrogen oxides around airports, produced by aircraft engines, will rise from 2.5 million tonnes in 2000 to 6.1 million tonnes in 2025.

The CHSRA has not provided any firm estimates of how much carbon emissions will be saved from air travel specifically - their 17.6 billion pounds of carbon per year estimate includes air and auto travel - but this study suggests that even the CHSRA numbers may significantly understate the savings.

On that basis alone high speed rail is worth building, as part of California's strategy to fight global warming. The AB 32 goals - reduction of CA carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - is a modest goal, but it will not have a chance of being met without investment in high speed rail. The full system won't open until around 2020, but portions of it will open before then, and will provide immediate action to stabilize our changing climate.

Opponents usually ignore this topic, since to acknowledge the need to act on global warming is to acknowledge the need for high speed rail. Instead they continue to suggest that airlines will handle the bulk of California's travel needs, or that airlines will adapt. The airlines themselves make this claim, from the same Independent article:

The International Air Transport Association, which represents 240 airlines, said it was working towards producing binding targets to reduce CO2 emissions. "With fuel costs doubling in the last year, airlines already have an incentive to work towards greater efficiency," a spokesman said. "There has been a 70 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency in the last four decades. Aviation is a benchmark of environmental responsibility for others to follow."

In fact, most of this "greater efficiency" is coming in the form of longer flying times or cutting service and reducing flights, including on the LA-SF route. New airline technologies designed to save on fuel, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, are experiencing significant delays amid technical problems.

The fact is that the airline industry is in serious trouble. Rising fuel costs and the growing awareness of their impact on global warming both mean that we will see a reduction in airline services. The airline industry will not disappear, but where it can be replaced with more efficient forms of travel - like high speed rail to connect cities within states - it will. If the enormous levels of carbon emissions from airlines don't convince us of the need to build high speed rail, perhaps the fuel-induced reductions in airline service will.


Anonymous said...

The article you refer to is poorly worded in that it implies that global carbon emissions by civilian airliners is 20% higher today than previously estimated. This is nonsense, since there is a known quantity of carbon in each ton of kerosene and, airports know exactly how much of it is being dispensed.

Rather, the study suggests that total emissions may be 20% higher by 2025 than previously forecast. Efficiency gains in aircraft design will be dwarfed by the gains in passenger miles delivered - especially in Asia.

Of course, these models always include any number of assumptions, e.g. regarding future economic growth, the price of kerosene or substitutes, the availability of viable alternatives (especially telecommunications), how the electricity for trains is generated etc. Nevertheless, common sense suggests that simply choosing to fly only when there is no other option will yield do most to curb the growth in carbon emissions. Where available, HSR is such an option for trip distances of 100-600 miles. For example, many flights between London, Paris and Brussels have been eliminated.

A key factor in shifting the airline business to long-haul service will be good integration with airports and booking systems. US airlines still think specifically in terms of connecting flights, rather than connecting transportation service.

In many European countries, you can already obtain your boarding pass(es) and check your luggage through at selected train stations. In some cases, the station serving the airport is actually within the building (e.g. Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Frankfurt/Main, Schiphol in Amsterdam and Schwechat in Vienna).

Wrt California HSR, rail ROW limitations mean the primary focus is on displacing simple interstate flights and long-distance driving. None of the proposed stations is physically inside an airport terminal. Ontario's will be within walking distance and several other airports will offer frequent rail shuttles or unmanned people movers. In San Diego, there's an express shuttle bus that only needs to cover a relatively short distance.

Unfortunately, there are currently no firm plans for a non-stop rail shuttle between LAX and Union Station, nor for a subway stop. There is a non-stop shuttle bus but that could easily get stuck in traffic, so you have to allow extra time for the transfer. This buffer will undercut HSR's ability to displace connecting flights between LAX and other airports within the state.

The HSR stations proposed for Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield also lack firm plans for fast, dependable connections to the nearest airport. One option would be to tweak the HSR route near Merced and put add a station inside Castle Airport.

As much as anything, scoping airport connector service out of the overall HSR plan - just because such trains would run at or below 110mph - reflects a failure of imagination on the part of both CHSRA and the aviation industry.

Brandon in California said...

Anon 2:39,

You hit on a couple topics in your post and a couple particular phrases come to mind. One is, "Airports are not destintions, cities are."

It is true that HSR is proposed as a mean to reduce the need to build additional highway lanes and airport terminal gates. And, that persons using those modes will be diverted to HSR instead.

I am not suggesting 'all' persons, but I would suggest enough that make HSR more than viable.

I think you're saying that HSR stations need to have good connections at airports in order to lure air travelers having connected in-state flights to HSR. Perhaps with Origin or Destination airports from out-of-state.

I would agree.

But, I don't think such connections, or in-airport stations, are critical to the success of CHSRA. Substantial in-state only travel demand will be more than sufficient for HSR services.

Thus, I disagree with your final statement about CHSRA and others not having 'imagination'.

And here's why:

Airports are not destinations, cities are. The plan is to serve cities, and city cores with fast and frequent inter-city service. City cores are where most people are located or destined to.

Airport connections are nice, but, more stations at airports that are in outling areas will add more stops and slow trains down. That makes HSR less competitive.

However, there is one possibility that could be explored further, but will not be the responsibility of the CHSRA.

Locals can pursue addtional in-line stations for local over-lay service. A commuter overlay is mentioned in some places. Airport servic is another option.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I agree with bmfarley's take on this. The HSR plan is already well integrated with CA airports - there will be a stop at Millbrae, providing a quick connection to SFO. BART's OAK extension will be open by the time HSR is as well. SJC is fairly easily reached from Diridon Station, even considering the shuttle bus from Metro/Airport VTA light rail station.

And while HSR won't be "tweaked" to include Merced's Castle Airport, which would seem to me an entirely unnecessary modification, it is planned to stop at the Palmdale Airport, which is already being developed as an alternative to LAX. The Metro Green Line extension to LAX is not dead, and some increased federal funding for local rail might help close that gap.

In any case, the HSR system is primarily designed to move people within California, whether they are intercity travelers or regional commuters. It's not HSR's job to integrate itself into long-haul air travel, although the connections described above will make this easier. What anonymous seems to be talking about is more an issue with operating the HSR system and not so much about its route or station choices.