As a solution to our energy and pollution crises, open-rotor aircraft engines have long been akin to nuclear fusion – promising, but 30 years away. But as our special environment report in this issue reveals, breakthroughs may be imminent.

Those engines might slash consumption by 30%. Will carbon-neutral biofuel drive them? One fuel producer thinks, finally, airline demand may rise to support large scale production. Meanwhile, ICAO looks set to approve “historic” CO2 emissions standards.

So is aviation poised for an environmental breakthrough? In principle, maybe. In practice, none of these developments may amount to much. As a compelling International Energy Agency oil market forecast to 2040 observed recently, aviation has “no hope” of meeting its goal of carbon-neutral growth after 2020 ­because no improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency will counter emissions from increasing air traffic.

Open-rotor engines can only fly on airframes ­designed for them, and no such airframes are, realistically, on the horizon. ICAO’s “historic” emissions standards are, in truth, easily met by modern aircraft today. And there is, really, no chance of a paradigm-shifting scale-up of biofuel production any time soon.

Environmental campaigners can be excused for suspecting the industry is interested in being seen to be doing something as long as profits are not affected.

Source: Flight International