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CO2 Emissions | Causes and Costs 

CO2 emissions are much in the news these days with many claiming that they are a main contributor to global warning. Because of this, carbon or CO2 cap-and-trade legislation that impacts aviation may become law in the US in the near future. And in Europe it is already a fact for aviation with an implementation date of 2012. Thus, logical questions are what this is all about and how much will it cost us?

Let's start with a basic fact - burning one gallon of Jet-A creates just over 21 pounds of CO2 and burning one gallon of AvGas creates just over 22 pounds of CO2. These may seem to be startling numbers. How can one gallon of Jet-A, which weighs just 6.7 pounds, be turned into 3 times as much CO2? The reason has to do with the chemistry of turning fuel into propulsive power. Fuel is basically composed of carbon molecules and hydrogen molecules. For example a typical fuel may have the chemical formula of C8H18, which means 8 molecules of carbon are combined with 18 molecules of hydrogen. To burn this and create the hot gases that all engines depend on to produce power requires oxygen (O2). Piston and turbine engines get this oxygen from the air that is introduced to the engine through the intake. In the burning process, the carbon and hydrogen in the fuel combine with the oxygen in the air to form CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water). To use up all the carbon and hydrogen molecules in the fuel requires lots of air - for example, it takes about 14 pounds of air (about 20% of which is oxygen) to burn 1 pound of AvGas.

Given these basics, the only way for aircraft to decrease CO2 emissions is to increase fuel efficiency. In fact, the manufacturers of business jets and their engines have been very successful at this. As illustrated in the following graph, the average fuel consumption and the corresponding CO2 emissions for comparable sized business jet aircraft have seen a steady decrease that has averaged about 2% per year since these aircraft were introduced in the mid-sixties. And all indications are that this trend will continue.

CO2 Emissions/NM Decline | More efficient engines = less CO2 

Unfortunately, while average CO2 emissions per aircraft have been more than cut in half, the fleet of business jet aircraft has increased from about 1,150 in the late sixties to about 19,000 in 2008. Thus, the overall CO2 emissions from business aviation have increased from about 1.0 to 2.0 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year in the late 1960s to between 15 and 20 million tonnes per year today. A metric tonne equals 2,204 pounds and is the common unit of measure in the world of CO2 emissions.

While that is a large number it is important to put it in context. According to the Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), general aviation (including business aviation) represents about 2% of the CO2 emissions generated by all of aviation. And all of aviation represents about 2% of the total annual man-made CO2 emissions. In short, general aviation generates only about 0.04% of all man-made CO2 emissions.

Many of those who believe that CO2 emissions make a significant contribution to global warming also believe that those who generate this CO2 should pay for its mitigation. At present there are no laws or regulations that require this in the US. However, to assist those that feel strongly about this, a number of organizations have set up a mechanism whereby individuals or companies can purchase "carbon offsets". Typically the proceeds from these carbon offsets are used to finance various projects that increase renewable energy resources (e.g. building wind farms) or increase energy efficiency (e.g. installation of insulation) or destroy various pollutants (e.g. plant trees to absorb CO2).

The cost of carbon offsets range from about $15 to about $40 per metric tonne of CO2 and average about $20 per metric tonne. The impact of these offsets on the cost of operation for an aircraft is relatively small - averaging about $0.20 per gallon. Thus, for a business jet flying 400 hours per year, our newly developed CO2 Calculator shows that the total annual cost of buying carbon offsets for this aircraft will range from $10,000 for a small CJ1 class aircraft to $35,000 for a G550 type aircraft.

The beta version Aircraft CO2 Calculator is available through our Member’s Area: Click here to get the C02 Calculator 

While currently this is voluntary, the "carbon cap and trade" plan that is included in the proposed 2010 US budget will make payment for carbon offset costs mandatory. In addition, the EU has already adopted such legislation that will require carbon offset payments starting in 2012.

In a future article we'll talk more about carbon offsets as well as more details and the likely impact of "cap and trade" legislation on business aviation.

Last Month's Question  ~  Do You Have A Plan?

In the April topic, we asked have you ever benchmarked your aviation operation.

  • 36% benchmark on a regular basis
  • 36% have done so in the past, but not recently
  • 27% have not

Almost three-fourths have benchmarked at one time or another. In the future we'll touch on this subject again, hoping to make benchmarking a useful exercise for you.

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The mission of Conklin & de Decker is to furnish the general aviation industry with objective and impartial information in the form of professionally developed and supported products and services, enabling its clients to make more informed decisions when dealing with the purchase and operation of aircraft.

With over 2,000 clients in 90 countries around the world, we combine aviation experience with proven business practices.

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