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Could aviation ever be less polluting?

The aviation industry is under pressure to reduce carbon emissions, yet air travel continues to grow in popularity around the world. Can technological innovation help square this circle, or should we simply fly less often?

Once a byword for innovation and progress, many people now view aviation as dirty and dangerous to the environment.

It contributes about 2% of the world’s global emissions, and this is set to rise.

IATA, the airline trade body, predicts that passenger numbers will double to 8.2 billion a year by 2037. Planemaker Boeing forecasts there will be demand for 42,700-plus new aircraft over the next 20 years. Airbus predicts much the same.

Yet by 2050, the European Union wants the industry to reduce emissions of CO2 of 75%, of nitrogen oxides by 90%, and noise by 65%. And a new Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, agreed by 70 countries, comes into force in 2020.

So what is the industry doing to meet these formidable challenges?

Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s major aero-engine makers, says its new-generation UltraFan, more than 10 years in development and scheduled to be ready for service in the middle of the next decade, will be 25% more fuel efficient than its first generation Trent engine.

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