In this post I present you with 11 facts about airplanes, the aviation industry, and air travel. This post was originally a video I made while Britain was in its first lockdown in 2020 and has been updated to reflect the changes since.
The measures introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic devastated economies and decimated the air, travel and tourism industries. Some airlines collapsed completely while others predicted it would take several years for them to restore their businesses to pre-pandemic levels. Airline staff have been made redundant with the inevitable impact on each individual and their families.
On the other hand, some people rejoiced at the sight of aircraft parked, skies cleared, and airports quiet. Environmental zealots had a blind spot when it came to the impact of lockdowns and all the travel restrictions that were imposed when it came to not just the UK economy but also those abroad that depend on tourism.
To the extent that the only flights operating in the dark days of 2020 were air cargo and emergency services, others counted the cost in terms of loss of employment, career setbacks, training suspended, and a whole list of problems not least of which is the effect on their mental health.
Eventually the aircraft took to the skies again. At least some pilots, cabin crew, and other airline staff were called back to their former positions, but as events in the spring of 2022 showed us, the airlines and the airport operators failed to restore their headcounts to sufficient levels. The pointless continuation of testing and isolating for what by 2022 had become a minor bug no worse than a cold meant that staff absenteeism was high as people were either forced or chose to take another few days off because they tested positive.
So whether you are one of the ones who rejoiced at the sound of aero engines overhead once more, or who secretly wished the grounding of airline fleets could be made permanent, here are a few few facts to mull over while you look skyward as another EasyJet 737 heads for Malaga.
11 Facts About Airplanes & Air Travel
The first ten statistics that follow were taken from https://www.atag.org/ in April 2022.
- Over 87.7 million jobs are supported worldwide in aviation and related tourism. Of that figure, 11.3 million people work directly in the aviation industry.
We tend to think of airline staff as being pilots and flight attendants, but the industry also supports the taxi driver that drives you from the airport to hotel and the cleaner who cleans your room while you’re at a meeting or lying on the beach.
- 478 airlines operate a fleet of 33,299 aircraft serving 3,780 airports throughout a network of several million kilometres, managed by 162 air navigation service providers.
That’s an awful lot of ancillary staff and technology keeping a vital global network alive.
- In 2019, 4.5 billion passengers were carried by the world’s airlines. That’s 4.5 billion people who found a reason to board an aircraft.
That’s a huge number of passengers and their reasons for flying are far more diverse than just the usual assumptions that it’s for business or tourism.
- Globally, flights produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019. In other words, that’s 2% of the total CO2 produced by human activity which produced over 43 billion tonnes of CO2 in that year. This includes things like shipping or the Internet, both of which also account for about 2% each.
Aviation attracts more criticism for its CO2 output because it’s more visible, yet shipping and and all the online activity of the world’s population produce similar ammounts.
- Commercial aircraft in service today are well over 80% more fuel efficient per seat kilometre than the first jets of the 1960s at the dawn of the Jet Age.
Aircraft and aerospace technology is evolving all the time. It’s in the best interest of the airline industry (as well as the planet) that aircraft become quieter, cleaner, and more fuel efficient. Aero engines that are more efficient help to reduce operating costs.
- Around 80% of the CO2 generated by aviation are emitted from flights of over 1500 kilometres for which there is no practical alternative mode of transport.
Sometimes road, rail, or sea isn’t a viable means of making the same journey. Besides, those methods have their own carbon footprint. The net carbon cost of a direct flight by air has to be compared to that of a the same journey by ship or overland.
- Since 2000, the retrofitting of winglets on aircraft has generated a saving of over 80 million tonnes of CO2. Sometimes small design changes to aircraft can have a significant cumulative effect.
- Deliveries of fresh produce from Africa to the UK support the livelihoods of 1.5 million people while producing less CO2 than similar produce grown in the UK, despite the energy used in the transportation of that produce. This just goes to show that there’s plenty of room for more efficiency and sustainable technology within agriculture in the UK and Europe.
- The Airbus A380 and A220, Boeing 787, ATR-600 and Embraer E2 aircraft use less than three litres of jet fuel per 100 passenger kilometres making them as fuel efficient as most modern compact cars. Yes, really.
- Globally, the average occupancy of aircraft is 82% greater than other forms of transport.
Airlines like to fly aircraft at full capacity so they tend to work harder at filling seats. They can’t afford to allow aircraft to fly half empty so they put a lot more effort into selling their seats than their counterparts in the rail and road sectors.
- Aviation is essential for conservation projects abroad. Tourists who fly to far off places to enjoy ecotourism are the lifeblood of conservation projects.
Without them, many of these projects that have taken years of painstaking effort to build are in danger of collapse, and rare species are at greater risk from poachers and habitat destruction. The vast majority of these ecoutourists arrive by air.
To deter slash-and-burn agriculture and to encourage the rural populations of developing countries to preserve the habitats and to live in close cooperation with the natural world they need to be incentivised by economic enrichment. Air travel can play a leading role in that process.
So rejoice when you see those airliners in the sky. It means that not only is our economy being strengthened, but also the economies of those countries and islands who depend on tourism to feed, clothe, and educate their children. It also means that eco tourists are returning to where they are needed and appreciated, and where their money sustains essential wildlife conservation projects.
When airlines return to profit it means there is more money to invest in research and design for cleaner, quieter, and even more sustainable aviation.