M&J Aviation


THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF AVIATION

by Jerry Zhang


Growing up in southern China, I spent many of my childhood days in blanketing smog and contaminated air. Often low visibility prevented me from seeing pretty much anything more than a few streets away. And even on clear sunny days, the ring of particulate pollutants would shroud the beautiful skyline of Guangzhou. People suffered from increased possibilities of lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and even reduced lifespan. The damages that people are doing to the atmosphere seemed unreasonable to my younger self, and the longing for improvement and changes deeply rooted in my heart. This unique upbringing established air pollution as one of the biggest arch-enemies in my life, and throughout my years in China, I took various initiatives to battle it on a personal level. Opting for buses and subway rides for most of my trips, I was an avid advocate for public transportation. I also developed the habit of cycling as my means of commuting for all four years of high school, rejoicing at reducing my carbon footprint.


Meanwhile, my interest and passion for aviation grew. For years, however, I carefully dodged its downsides. Avoiding the confrontation between my passion and my ideal, I was reluctant to acknowledge that aviation is still one of the major contributors to atmospheric pollution. The more research articles, statistics, and data I came across, the more unwillingly convinced I became that my lifelong passion is indeed a visible detriment to our environment. The drastic increase in air travel during the past century along with the skyrocketing airfreight business directly resulted in the growing attribution of greenhouse gas and particulate emission to commercial airliners. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commercial aviation is responsible for at least 4% of the aggregate anthropogenic climate change due to the emission of carbon dioxide and the formation of contrails. Moreover, the emission of nitrogen oxide and sulfate particles can influence various meteorologic behaviors, apart from deteriorating the overall air quality of our environment.


With the special status that has aviation exempt from both the Kyoto and Paris Climate Agreements, attention on the negative impact of aviation is marginal. It is unfortunate that most people remain blissfully unaware of the environmental impacts of aviation. Nevertheless, even if people increase their attention on this issue, the available alternatives are limited at this moment. This is exactly what I am interested in working on as a career in the future. As for now, the two main approaches to the problem are renewable energy and more efficient aircraft. My goal is to develop both of the approaches and make sure their development matches the ever-growing demand in commercial air transportation. The success of the first United biofuel flight, which featured substantially lower carbon emissions, and the Swiss Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered aircraft to cruise around the world, greatly inspired me. They together signify the practicality of the approaches in the imminent future. My passion for both aviation and a better environment will continuously motivate me to research for new solutions on the topic.



N209TR | Boeing 727-223(Adv)(F) | Career Aviation | MSN 20994<br/>Photo credit belongs to Jerry Zhang.