How to get serious about climate change

How Transformative Innovation in Aviation can Combat Climate Change

The aviation industry has become a major contributor to climate change. While aviation is responsible for only 3% of global warming today, its share is increasing, and traditional solutions like Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) may not be enough to counteract the impact of the industry on the environment. To achieve meaningful progress, a more disruptive investment in new technologies and businesses is required. Congress has the power to mandate the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to orchestrate airplane competitions that facilitate innovative solutions to reduce aviation emissions.

New kinds of propulsion systems that use electricity or hydrogen have the potential to revolutionize the aviation industry and have a significant impact on other industries as well. However, such radical ideas for improvements in efficiency and new fuels may not necessarily come from insiders in the aviation industry.

To spur innovation, the FAA can learn from the Pentagon and choose several rival contractors through airplane competitions instead of picking a single winner as NASA has often done. The FAA should follow this playbook and prioritize the certification of novel technologies for flight. The current certification system is flawed because regulators are not considering risks and opportunities comprehensively.

The FAA could also help innovators develop new kinds of onboard storage systems such as batteries or fuel cell devices that convert liquid fuels to electricity. They can also make it easier for successful innovators to understand that new ideas can compete by setting priorities to certify for flight novel technologies.

A good test bed for new ideas would be single-aisle short- and medium-range aircraft. They represent a significant portion of the aviation market and could lead the way for the spread of new technologies once successful.

Congress has the opportunity to mandate the FAA to create a climate change-focused plan in its reauthorization of the FAA. This would not only promote diverse ideas and competition but also benefit American innovators and workers. The aviation industry must change to reduce its impact on the environment. The federal government can play a significant role by regulating pollution, promoting competition, and actively supporting the disruptors. The FAA has the power to facilitate a much more diverse array of solutions that are necessary to combat climate change.