“Replacement of older generation aircraft is one of the most straightforward ways to decarbonise the sector and in this aspect India is well ahead of the curve,” said an Airbus spokesperson in a response to a TOI query. Airbus recently concluded a two-day annual summit where it showcased a slew of initiatives to reduce aviation’s climate impact, prime among them being its work on a new hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine to power its zero-emission commercial aircraft, scheduled to hit the market in 2035.
In the coming decades, fleet modernisation — a mid-term solution to bring down the aviation industry’s carbon emissions — is set to see the percentage of fuel-efficient aircraft go up globally. By 2041, new generation passenger aircraft will represent 95% of the operated fleet, as per the latest Airbus Global Services forecast (2022-2041).
In India, the percentage of fuel-efficient aircraft in airline fleets is expected to climb rapidly in the coming years. Newly-privatised carrier Air India, reportedly in the advanced stages of negotiating a major fleet renewal and expansion, is expected to soon announce a humongous order for latest-generation aircraft. Currently though, the bulk of the green fleet is operated by IndiGo, India’s largest carrier with 56% market share. “Currently 80% of our fleet consists of latest generation aircraft,” said an IndiGo spokesperson.
So, which are the latest generation aircraft? The most popular narrow-body-the single-aisle planes that largely operate domestic flights. The new generation aircraft are those from the A320neo family and Boeing 737 MAX, the ones that commenced service in 2016-2017. Then there are the new generation wide-bodies such as the A350, B777X, B787 etc which are more fuel-efficient as compared to previous generation aircraft like A300, A310, B747 etc. “The A320neos are typically 15-20% more fuel-efficient than the older generation A320 and A321ceos,” said the IndiGo spokesperson. Airlines’ fuel consumption after all is a direct indicator of the industry’s carbon-dioxide emissions. CO2 accounts for about 70% of exhaust and is the largest component of aircraft emissions. So, the more fuel-efficient an aircraft is, lower is its carbon emissions.
The global aviation industry is working towards being carbon-neutral or net-zero by 2050. For India, which is still a developing market, PM Narendra Modi has committed to turn into net-carbon zero by 2070. Among the milestones is the increased use of sustainable aviation fuel (fuel produced from a variety of sustainable feedstocks such as used cooking oil, agricultural waste, green hydrogen etc).