The challenge of making aviation sustainable

The challenge of making aviation sustainable

The aviation industry is a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions globally, responsible for nearly 2% all emissions in 2020 [1].  In 2021, aviation created 0,71 GtCO2eq (Gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent) of GHG emissions, which is 9% of all emissions from the transportation sector globally [2]. The rebound of international aviation after COVID-19 is increasing the amount of emissions and the application of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and fuel efficiency through powerplant and airframe improvements cannot keep up with the estimated growth of demand for air travel [3]. This is caused by long aircraft lifecycles and large costs associated with technology development and SAF supply chain ramp-up [3]. Based on the increase of air miles, the speed of adaptation of new technologies for fuel efficiency and the global push for reduced emissions, we can see a real opportunity for other areas of improvement.

It’s What’s Inside that Matters

The sustainability of aircraft interiors is of growing interest. As mentioned above, aviation companies are looking for methods to improve their sustainability by first looking at fuel efficiency, but the insides of the cabin can also play a pivotal role. Reducing the GHG emissions of manufacturing by introducing sustainable materials and efficient recycling supply chains can help aircraft manufacturers reach their goals for more sustainable aviation [4].

TactoTek took part in the Aircraft Cabin Innovation Summit earlier this year in Hamburg, Germany. One of the most discussed topics was the role of sustainability in future aircraft cabin interior designs. Circularity and sustainability of components, materials and assemblies are seen as areas of interest from a design and consumer point of view [5].

The increased level of sustainable materials and effective end-of-life cycles can definitely reduce the environmental impact of aircraft interiors during their first lifecycle step, manufacturing.  Biobased and recycled materials are one way to begin the sustainability journey, but cutting emissions from aircraft operation matters most. This requires the trimming of excess fat from the bellies of jets - jumbo or skinny.

A Jumbo Jet-sized Diet

A common metric used to describe the environmental benefit of reducing the mass of an aircraft is how much the reduction of mass leads to GHG emission savings. One number from BDL (see references) is that 1 kilogram of saved weight equates to 25 tonnes of saved GHG emissions during the aircraft’s lifetime [6]. Subsequently, the fact is that the more heavier the plane is, the more fuel it burns [7]. The exact amount for the impact of mass reduction requires a complex calculation, where the takeoff weight, length of travel and other variables play a big part. Still, it’s clear that reducing weight has direct impact for lifetime emissions - thus we can say safely that if the interior of an aircraft can be made with lighter components, the lifetime emissions for air travel can be reduced.

Based on our knowledge of a variety of application studies, customer projects, demonstrators and reference designs, we know that TactoTek® and our Injection Molded Structural Electronics (IMSE®) technology can effectively reduce the mass in different application areas. As an example from the automotive sector, when comparing a traditional overhead control panel (OHCP) to one made with IMSE, we can achieve a mass reduction of up to 75%. The comparative similarity of an aviation Passenger Service Unit (PSU) to a car OHCP leads us to estimate like-for-like improvements within aircraft interiors, in certain applications.

IMSE can be used to create innovative, sleek and modern illumination and HMI solutions that can help the aviation industry in reaching their ambitious goals for the good of the environment.

Joint Effort for Sustainability

May it be fuel efficiency, circular economy models, sustainable materials or mass savings, we are on this sustainability journey together. By being open and transparent of the pain points and opportunities for development we can find the best possible combination of passenger comfortability, look and feel as well as sustainability for the aircraft interior industry.

Stay tuned for more updates on IMSE and Sustainability!


[1] Emissions by sector, Our World in Data, 2022. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector

[2] Transport, IEA, 2023. Available from: https://www.iea.org/topics/transport

[3] Environmental Trends in Aviation to 2050, International Civil Aviation Organization, 2022. Available from: https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Documents/EnvironmentalReports/2022/ENVReport2022_Art7.pdf

[4] Sustainability in the aircraft interiors sector, Aircraft Interiors International, 2022. Available from: https://www.aircraftinteriorsinternational.com/features/sustainability-in-the-aircraft-interiors-sector.html

[5] Aircraft Cabin Innovation Summit 2023, Hamburg, Germany. Hosted by Airbus.

[6] Climate protection report, Bundesverband der Deutschen Luftverkehrswirtschaft (BDL), 2020. Available from: https://www.bdl.aero/en/publication/climate-protection-report/

[7] CO2 Reduction Measures in the Aviation Industry: Current Measures and Outlook, Mathys, F., Wild. P. & Wang, J., International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerosapce, 2021. Available from: https://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1581&context=ijaaa

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Janne Jääskä
Janne Jääskä
Manager, Sustainability and Product Planning
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