Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-92)

Wednesday 4 June 2003


  Q80  Mr Ainsworth: But all predictions may or may not turn out to be true. It is slightly disconcerting to find that the organisation Greener by Design is working on figures which are even more optimistic than those used by the Treasury. The other question flowing on from that is whether or not you recognise the existence of radiated force as something to calculate into the projections.

  Dr Somerville: If we just deal with the question of growth and emissions, I noticed in a previous transcript of this group that there was some talk of aviation accounting for something like 208 million tonnes by 2030. That figure would require something around a 7% growth rate in emissions, which would probably require something like a 9 to 10% growth in traffic, which is totally unrealistic.

  Q81  Mr Ainsworth: That figure of 208 is arrived at by taking the Treasury's own figures and multiplying them up to take account of radiative forcing, which creates a massive knock-on equivalent in terms of the CO2 effect and global warming.

  Dr Somerville: Yes. Perhaps I could just address the radiative forcing question. You will be aware that there is huge uncertainty over the radiative forcing issue and that the IPCC has estimated a figure of 2.7 but within a huge range of multipliers. For terrestrial sources, which is not taken into account, I believe, in the comparisons which have been made, the multiplier is something like 1.3. The Royal Commission Report, which to some extent updated the report of the IPCC, is more or less in agreement with the IPCC report so you can perhaps say that there is a multiplier of 2 compared to terrestrial sources. We do not believe that the multipliers which have been used in arriving at a total of 208 million are justified at the moment, although we do admit that there is a huge uncertainty in the radiative forcing figures. One of the strongest actions that Greener by Design supports is research into determining more accurately what that figure will be.

  Mr Mans: Mr Ainsworth, could I just make one point. This group is not designed to reduce, downplay or indeed come up with any specific figure along the lines you have said. What we are interested in doing is meeting the challenge. What we also know, as Dr Somerville has said, is that there is a huge degree of uncertainty in the way the statistics are used, and the 0.5 and the 5% is one example. We are talking about CO2 emissions purely on domestic flights and ones which are international and equally what the factor is for radiation forcing when CO2 and other emissions take place at various different heights. Therefore, as Dr Somerville has said, one of the things we believe very strongly is that we do need more research so that we can get more certainty, so that when we do decide what the best thing is to do there is the best chance of it actually working.

  Q82  Mr Ainsworth: With the greatest respect, you cannot set as your prime purpose meeting the challenge if you have not identified what the challenge is and I would suggest to you that it perhaps is not a great start to begin by diminishing the size of the challenge by leaving out international flights from calculations of CO2 emissions, by not including radiative forcing and by saying, as you do in your memorandum, that CO2 emissions are not really the problem anyway. I think it is going to be very difficult for you to meet the challenge if you have not really identified what it is.

  Mr Mans: I do not think it is up to us to identify ourselves the challenge. We want to make certain that people understand the challenge exists and, if nothing else, what we have managed to do is to actually bring into the open some of the uncertainty which exists with some of the calculations which have been done. If it was to be shown that in fact the higher figure for radiation forcing is the more accurate one that is fine by us. That is not an issue which affects what we are trying to do. If anything, what we are trying to do is raise the profile within the aerospace community and outside of the need to tackle this particular problem and to find logical and long-lasting ways of finding solutions which allow economic and social activity to continue whilst at the same time, as I say, meeting the technical challenge. We could debate for some time how the figures are arrived at. The 0.5 figure is simply because that is the figure which is in the Kyoto Agreement but I am the first to admit that if you add all the international flights—but that must be made clear in the figures, otherwise you will find we are adding them and other countries in Europe are not.

  Q83  Mr Ainsworth: But your figure differs from that on which the Treasury is basing its approach.

  Mr Mans: Yes, it is a different approach.

  Q84  Mr Ainsworth: Therefore, you take issue with the Treasury's approach on this?

  Dr Somerville: We do not take issue with the fact that there is a problem here. For example, we will accept the Royal Commission's estimate that by 2050 aviation emissions could account for 6%, and perhaps even safer to go to 6 to 10% in terms of CO2 of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. We accept that as a good estimate at the present time. We are not denying that there is a problem but we would point out that there are some assumptions made. For example in the IPCC report, which has been used by others, it is assumed that there are no constraints on growth, the supply of airport capacity, the supply of aircraft and the supply of fuel. As I have already pointed out, there are things that happen which do limit growth.

  Mr Ainsworth: Thank you.

  Q85  Mr Challen: Good afternoon. You said in your memorandum that something like one-third fuel efficiency improvements can be gained by 2012, in 10 years time. I am just wondering where these improvements can be gained from?

  Mr Mans: If I might start off and then I will ask my two colleagues to fill in a lot of the gaps that I will probably have made. In the near term we believe that there are significant savings to be made in operations. I am talking about the operations on the ground and the way in which the air traffic system operates. To take a very crude example, we could make significant savings of up to a third of that figure, perhaps a bit more, if you start the aircraft up only when you know that there is a clear way out to the runway and after you have taken off you fly in a straight line to your destination and land without any holding pattern at the other end. So that is a clear area where I believe we can do a great deal in the near term, but that does require governments and the European Commission in particular to take an active part to achieve that. Secondly, we also believe that there are significant savings to be made in the ground transportation area, both on and off airports. In other words, a more holistic solution just to see what the overall burden is that air transport imposes upon the community has to take into account what goes on on the ground. More efficient vehicles for ground handling, less use of fuel bowsers, more refuelling from underground tanks, which takes place at many airports, are just a few examples of the sorts of things I am getting at. Beyond that, we believe there are significant technical improvements which can be made but that does mean fairly large amounts of investment, both in airframe design and engine design. If I could just ask my two colleagues to comment further on those two aspects.

  Mr Beesley: Firstly, on reducing fuel burn by a third by 2012, that figure is based on some work we did on fleet projections and looking at the UK aviation fleet of aircraft of 100 seats and above. That showed that according to the anticipated replacement of aircraft with newer, more efficient aircraft the average fuel burn per passenger/kilometre of the UK fleet of aircraft would reduce by 34% relative to 1990. So that is possibly where that figure came from. For the longer term possibilities from technology improvements, which necessarily have to be over a longer term because of the time it takes to develop new technology, to develop the new engines and aircraft that they appear in and then for those aircraft to actually infiltrate and replace the older aircraft. It takes decades to achieve. The work of Greener by Design is very much in line with the ACARE targets, which is the Advisory Council for Aviation Research in Europe, which many of the members of Greener by Design have played a part in and which set the strategic goal at a 50% reduction of fuel burn per passenger/kilometre achievable by 2020. There are slightly different but similar targets being made by NASA for the US aviation industry. So there is a clear desire to improve the environmental performance of aircraft beyond the rate at which it has been improving to date.

  Q86  Mr Challen: How much in that 34% figure would be accounted for by that kind of pressure since Rolls-Royce have said, and I think you have quoted in your memorandum, that there is likely to be little difference between the anticipated and the environmentally optimal improvement in the replacement plans over the next 10 years? How much pressure is coming from Government in that 34%? What does it account for?

  Mr Beesley: That 34% is driven by the current market forces of the cost it takes to run an aircraft, which has a lot of factors including the fuel price. You must appreciate there is not a new model of an aircraft produced every year and the environmental optimum aircraft is the best available aircraft of the right size and the right design to do the particular flight that is required. Periodically airlines renew their fleet when there is a better performing aircraft; it makes economic sense to replace it. The calculations we did were that we looked at what the expected fleet would be in 2012 and looked at which aircraft were still flying but which were no longer in production, in other words something similar but more environmentally efficient has come along, and the difference between those two different fleets would only give an average fuel efficiency of about 1 or 2% at the most.

  Q87  Mr Challen: I am just wondering about the influence that governments across the world have. You have said that market forces seem to be the driving factor and that suggests obviously, quite rightly, that companies want to reduce the amount of money they spend on fuel, which is a perfectly good objective. But is there not a bit of a trade-off where perhaps the Government can pressurise companies into trading, as it were, in the right way (for example, between noise and carbon reduction and so on) and where the Government will have that extra influence to do something that perhaps the company was not itself willing to do purely on the basis of market forces?

  Mr Mans: I think that has certainly been true in the past when it comes to noise. Noise has largely been regulated and as time goes on you tend to find the older aircraft, for one reason or another, are not allowed to operate from certain airports or indeed all airports. You may remember a couple of years ago there was quite a discussion between the United States and Europe over Hushkits and the application of aircraft that I think were Chapter 2 and whether they were allowed to operate in Europe. So I think Government does have a role to play, particularly in relation to regulation and noise, but you are absolutely right to focus on the trade-offs because I think we are now getting to the point when whereas previously you could show over the last 20 years or 30 or 40 years that you could reduce the noise and create a more efficient engine at the same time, now there is a trade-off. A good example would be the A380, which has got a fuel burn probably 2% above its optimum simply because of the need to meet Chapter 4 noise requirements, I think I am right in saying. Colin will know.

  Mr Beesley: Yes, that is correct. Our engine for the A380 will burn 2% more fuel than would be required to meet the international noise standards because the airlines have requested that it meets the Heathrow QC2 noise band, which has meant the engine has been designed a long way from the economic optimum. So that is one case where Government or standards have overridden market forces.

  Q88  Mr Challen: Could I just ask one final question. You have said that some of the efficiencies are not obviously going to just come from the engines themselves but from the way they are used and less time in use, as it were. That does suggest to me that the whole industry is going to have to work very much more together as a team, if you like, and every part of that team is going to have to be more efficient. I think with Air Traffic Control some of the stories that we have heard recently do not suggest to me that we have the capacity in Air Traffic Control to actually cope with this extra demand and obviously the extra aeroplanes that are going to be flying around.

  Mr Mans: I know Dr Somerville wants to comment on that. I would just like to say this is one of the reasons why Greener by Design was set up, to try to get a more holistic approach within the aerospace community, to work together exactly along the lines you have indicated. The fact is, we do need to continually invest in air traffic management. We need to look again at the agreements we have across Europe which allow us to fly more safely, more quickly and more efficiently across our continent. That is just one example where I am the first to admit not as much has been done in the past and certainly more needs to be done in the future.

  Dr Somerville: May I quickly add that I think the problem in capacity is not with Air Traffic Control, it s more with the runways, as you are probably well aware. It is one of organisation of Air Traffic Control, largely within Europe, and a lot is happening there. Just to illustrate the problem, British Airways has reported that pre-11 September delays at Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick cost it something like 60,000 tonnes of fuel a year, which is enough to keep 30,000 cars on the road. So it is over Europe quite a large opportunity and it is estimated that somewhere between 6 and 12% efficiency gain could actually be gained there. But there are other opportunities. Greener by Design has actually produced a report on operational improvements and this is very much in line with what the International Civil Aviation Organisation is promoting. Most airlines have very sophisticated fuel management programmes, as you would expect because of the cost involved, but there might, for example, be an opportunity in some short-haul operations, as the Royal Commission has pointed out, in getting aircraft which are more fit for the purpose to fly short-haul operations and reducing fuel there. I would add the final comment though that I think we are moving into a phase where the emphasis will be more on emissions and their impact than on straightforward fuel consumption. That is why we really need to understand the impact of the emissions as we go ahead for the longer term.

  Mr Challen: Thank you.

  Q89  Sue Doughty: I think we are into another query about whose figures we are looking at at the moment. Heathrow Airport. The European regulations will introduce statutory limits for NO2 in 2010 and there is concern about whether Heathrow will meet those limits, particularly with the addition of a third runway where people are saying that it will be impossible. BAA has suggested that in fact the number of people affected by NOx pollution is in fact much smaller than previously assumed. Have you got a view on this?

  Mr Mans: I think our view would probably be similar to yours and that is that there is a lot of different figures and this is clearly an area where we need a bit more clarity. I know Dr Somerville has something to say about this because he has been dealing with it for some time but there obviously is a need to try to separate out where the local air quality problems are coming from. We do not in any way say that a lot of them are not coming from aircraft but equally there are other factors as well. I do not need to tell you that one of them is obviously the motorway structure around Heathrow. So in order to get the right solutions we have got to understand the science a bit better, and perhaps I could ask Hugh to say a few words about that.

  Dr Somerville: I think all the estimates which are being made of the future are quite rightly conservative because it would be very unwise to predict below, as has already been pointed out with other emissions, what is likely to happen. The way the Government calculations have been made has been, I think, challenged in some ways because the conservatism has been extreme. If I could just pull out a few facts to illustrate. First of all, I think British Airways has replaced the combuster parts of half of its 747 fleet with marked reductions in NOx and this is not taken into account in the calculations. Secondly, the assumption is made in the calculations that full power is used on take-off, whereas most aircraft (including 747s) take off at somewhere between 80 and 85% of power and if you have a 747 taking off at 80% the NOx emissions ae roughly half what they are at full power. So there is a lot of work going on now with BAA and BA, including stakeholders from local and national government, in a consultative approach to this to try and recognise what are the actual contributions. One of the points I would make is that you must remember that nearly all of the measurements until very recently that have been made on NOx are made by roadside monitors, which are not good news for the people driving along the roads but very often—and this is the case at Heathrow—they are quite a way away from houses and concentrations fall off very rapidly as you go from a monitor to the houses. That is not to say that Greener by Design does not recognise this as a major interest and, as I said, it is getting a lot of attention. There is a lot of other things that can be done, for example with the ground fleet, on auxiliary power units and putting in pre-conditioned air, for example, which will be going in at Terminal 5, which will reduce NOx emissions.

  Q90  Gregory Barker: I would like to talk about the uptake or the failure commercially of eco-friendly technology. Could you outline for the Committee what the barriers are for currently available technology and technological improvements and for their implementation and if technology such as laminar flow, for example, are already well-developed why are they not being already incorporated into aircraft? Is it simply the cost of fuel, and you have spoken about that, but that the cost of fuel efficiency actually just constitutes too small a percentage of the overall package of costs that the airlines worry about?

  Mr Mans: I do not know whether that last point is quite right but I think you are right in suggesting that the payback may not be large enough to always justify the investment. The barriers—I would say there are three. One is money, two is physics and the third is timescale; in other words you are not going to get any big change quickly because even if you introduce a new aircraft now with the latest technology it is going to be some time before that technology goes through the whole fleet. I think the average age of aircraft in the British fleet is about eight years, which is very young. With a lot of fleets across the States and other parts of the world it is much longer so it takes longer for that new technology to get in. So that is the timescale argument. Money—there is no doubt that more investment, as we would argue, will lead to better efficiency and indeed we have a civil aviation research programme, CARED, which has £20 million which goes into it from the Government and the taxpayer every year, and the Innovation Growth Team report on aerospace, which is due out next week, and I would suggest, Chairman, that a copy of that report would certainly help your deliberations because there is a section in it specifically on this area about more investment in technology to improve efficiency; "environment-riding technology" I think is the phrase which is used. So as I say, money is obviously a barrier. To answer your specific question about laminar flow, laminar flow is a very good theory but so far—and I am not an aerodynamicist and no doubt a lot of them will start writing to me if they hear your deliberations or read the report—it has been quite difficult to turn it into a practical proposition under all operational conditions. But Colin probably has something more to say about that.

  Mr Beesley: It has been proven to have great potential and laboratory tests have been very promising and some short-scale flying tests, I believe, have had encouraging results but actually delivering something that will work over a long period of time with the accumulation of dirt is a different matter and for an aircraft to take full advantage of laminar flow it will have to be designed to depend upon it, otherwise it will have to be designed to carry the extra fuel, which would give you a different aircraft. It frankly is not at that level of reliability and safety that we would demand in an aircraft at the moment.

  Mr Mans: What I think I ought to add is that I think in the long term a new design such as the blended wing body, which makes extensive use of laminar flow, is a very fruitful area for further research.

  Q91  Gregory Barker: What do you think the role is for Government in terms of encouraging radical wing design, and if you think there is a role for Government why is the industry not getting on and doing these things itself?

  Mr Mans: On the first part of your question, I think the Innovation Growth Team report will explain that in a great deal more detail when it is published next week. Government has had a role since the dawn of aviation in the development of new technology and what is being suggested in that report is that that should be extended on the basis that it does actually have significant advantages to the environment and to sustainability. Why should the Government get involved in the first place? Well, there is a number of arguments and I would not want to delay the Committee. One of them is, I would suggest, that the aerospace community is a global community and this research is going on in many parts of the world. We believe that there is an opportunity here for this country with a partnership between Government and industry to ensure that we certainly remain world leaders in wing design and more specifically take on the challenge posed by making aircraft more environmentally friendly.

  Q92  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Mans. I apologise to you and to my colleagues but I think I have to bring the session to a close because there is a vote we are expecting in about twenty minutes and I do not want to disadvantage our next witnesses. Thank you, all three of you, very much indeed. We are very grateful. You will make sure we get that report?

  Mr Mans: Yes, we will send it to you.

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