Air quality

It is well known that flying emits CO2, but few realise that aircrafts release many other pollutants into the atmosphere. In addition to CO2, every flight also releases hidden emissions such as soot, nitrous oxides (NOx), and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The hidden emissions carry health implications, especially if you work in or live near an airport, or near busy flight routes. Studies available show emissions of soot by jet engines may be responsible for approximately 14,000 premature deaths each year globally.

The same analysis estimates that hundreds of thousands of cases of high blood pressure, diabetes and dementia may be caused by soot from aviation.

We can't continue to fly blind on the air pollution caused by burning kerosene, and let the aviation sector keep us in the dark about the full impact of flying. Regulation is needed to ensure the aviation industry implements straightforward solutions today to reduce this hidden pollution.

The first solution is to improve jet fuel quality. The amount of soot released by every flight critically depends on the composition of jet fuels.

By reducing the concentration of aromatics (ring-shaped carbon molecules) and sulphur in kerosene, emissions of soot can be reduced. This is a cost-effective solution that has been done for cars and ships but not yet in planes.

The increasing use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) will also help to lower pollution, as they have lower aromatics and therefore cause fewer emissions. Unfortunately, these fuels are not yet available at scale and they are very expensive.

In the meantime, improving the quality of kerosene that is burned in plane engines should be a top priority.