Executive Summary

The last three years has seen a spotlight shone on the environmental performance of the aviation sector, and the future challenges that it faces to ensure a license to operate. The third European Aviation Environmental Report provides an objective overview of the significant developments that have taken place in response to this.

While the sector provides economic benefits, connectivity, and stimulates innovation, European citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the effect that aviation activities have on their quality of life through climate change, noise and air quality, and many are prepared to act on these concerns. This is especially so on climate change, which is considered by Europeans to be the single most serious problem facing the world. With these challenges also come opportunities for businesses to build their strategies and brand around this key priority of sustainability to reduce their environmental impact and attract a growing market share, talent and investment, as well as empower customers to join the fight against climate change in this decisive decade.

Scaled-up collaboration between public and private stakeholders will also be of the utmost importance to enhance existing measures, and identify new ones, that can deliver the European Green Deal objectives. This report provides a clear and accurate source of information to inform and inspire discussions and cooperation in Europe. The long-term future of the aviation sector will depend on the success of this effort.


Arriving & Departing Flights at EU27+EFTA Airports

2All departures and arrivals in EU27+EFTA.
3All departures from EU27+EFTA.



Total number of people in the Lden 55 dB noise contours at 98 major airports (millions)

498 major European airports.
5All EU27+EFTA airports.



Full-flight NOX emissions of all departures from EU27+EFTA (thousand tonnes)

Full-flight CO2 emissions of all departures from EU27+EFTA (million tonnes)

Net CO2 emissions of all departures from EU27+EFTA under the base traffic scenario (million tonnes)

6All departures from EU27+EFTA.

Overview of Aviation Sector

  • The number of flights at EU27+EFTA airports increased by 15% between 2005 and 2019 to 9.3 million, while passenger kilometres almost doubled (+90%). However, flights declined to just 5.1 million in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • At 98 major European airports during 2019, 3.2 million people were exposed to Lden 55 dB aircraft noise levels and 1.3 million people were exposed to more than 50 daily aircraft noise events above 70 dB. This is 30% and 71% more than in 2005 respectively.
  • The top 10 airports in terms of Lden 55 dB population exposure in 2019 accounted for half of the total population exposure across the 98 major European airports.
  • The CO2 emissions of all flights departing from EU27+EFTA airports reached 147 million tonnes in 2019, which was 34% more than in 2005.
  • Long-haul flights (above 4,000 km) represented approximately 6% of departures during 2019 and half of all CO2 and NOX emissions.
  • Single-aisle jets had the larger share of flights and noise, but twin-aisle jets had the larger share of fuel burn and emissions.
  • The average grams CO2 emitted per passenger kilometre went down by an average 2.3% per annum to reach 89 grams in 2019, equivalent to 3.5 litres of fuel per 100 passenger kilometres.
  • In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions reduced by more than 50% and population exposure to noise fell by about 65%, while the average grams CO2 emitted per passenger kilometre increased back to 2005 level.
  • Fleet renewal could lead to reductions in total noise exposure at European airports as measured by the Lden and Lnight indicators over the next twenty years.
  • In 2050, it is predicted that in-sector measures could reduce CO2 emissions by 69% to 59 million tonnes compared to a business-as-usual “technology freeze” scenario (19% from Technology/Design, 8% from ATM-Ops, 37% from SAF and 5% from electric/ hydrogen aircraft).  

Airplane flying on blue sky


Aviation Environmental Impacts

  • To mitigate adverse effects from aircraft noise on EU citizens’ health, the World Health Organisation Europe recommends reducing aircraft noise levels below Lden 45 dB and Lnight 40 dB.
  • Air pollutant emissions from aviation have increased within the EU. Effective action requires better characterisation of aviation’s specific contribution compared to other sources of emissions, especially on particulate matter.
  • The growth in aviation CO2 emissions was accelerating prior to COVID-19, with almost half of global CO2 emissions between 1940 and 2019 having occurred since 2000.
  • In 2018, the estimated Effective Radiative Forcing from non-CO2 emissions accounted for more than half (66%) of the aviation net warming effect, although the level of uncertainty from the non-CO2 effects is 8 times larger than that of CO2.
  • Environmental certification standards already exist for aircraft engine non-CO2 emissions, including NOX and nvPM, and further mitigation policy options are being considered.
  • Where specific mitigation measures incur trade- offs between CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, a robust assessment methodology is essential to ensure an overall reduction in climate impact. In addition, ‘win-win’ options that reduce both simultaneously should be supported (e.g. appropriate sustainable aviation fuels).
  • In 2022, the IPCC 6th Assessment Report noted that immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to limit warming to 1.5°C and that the aviation sector is still in the earlier stages of adaptation to increased climate hazards.  


Technology and Design

  • New aircraft designs certified during the last 10 years (e.g. Airbus A320neo, A350 and Boeing 737MAX, 787) have a cumulative margin of 5 to 15 EPNdB below the latest Chapter 14 noise standard.
  • While certification activities have recently reduced for conventional aircraft, they have increased in new market segments (e.g. Drones, Urban Air Mobility).
  • EASA is developing dedicated noise certification standards for Drone and Urban Air Mobility aircraft that take into account their specific characteristics.
  • In-production engine types were designed prior to the new non-volatile Particulate Matter (nvPM) standards and manufacturers are evaluating how to mitigate nvPM emissions in new engine designs.
  • The engine NOX/nvPM standards, and the aircraft noise/CO2 standards, define the design space for products to simultaneously address noise, air quality and climate change issues.
  • Pipistrel Velis Electro became the first fully electric general aviation aircraft to be certified by EASA in 2020 and is now being used by pilots to learn to fly.
  • In 2021, the Airbus A330-900neo was the first aircraft to be approved worldwide against the new aeroplane CO2 emissions standard, although certified aeroplane CO2 data remains limited.


Sustainable Aviation Fuels

  • Current SAF supply remains low at less than 0.05%  of total EU aviation fuel use.
  • The European Commission has proposed a SAF blending mandate for fuel supplied to EU airports, with minimum shares of SAF gradually increasing from 2% in 2025 to 63% in 2050, and a sub-mandate for Power-to-Liquid SAF.
  • To achieve this mandate, approximately 2.3 million tonnes of SAF would be required by 2030, 14.8 million tonnes by 2040, and 28.6 million tonnes by 2050.
  • Drop-in SAF will play a key part in decarbonising the aviation sector as they can be used within the existing global fleet and fuel supply infrastructure.
  • Currently certified SAF are subject to a maximum blending ratio of 50% with fossil-based jet fuel depending on the feedstock-production pathway considered, but industry and fuel standard committees are looking into the future use of 100% SAF by 2030.
  • SAF are certified by Sustainability Certification Schemes against criteria defined at EU level in the Renewable Energy Directive and at global level in the CORSIA framework.
  • While SAF are currently more expensive than fossil- based jet fuel, cost savings are expected notably through future production economies of scale. SAF prices can vary depending on the production pathway, associated production costs and fluctuations in the energy market.  


Air Traffic Management and Operations

  • The European Green Deal requires a more ambitious,  comprehensive and holistic approach involving all stakeholders to accelerate solutions to enable greener operations in the short term.
  • In 2019, excess fuel burn on an average flight by flight basis within the Network Manager area was estimated to be between 8.6% (XFB10)7 to 11.2% (XFB5), with excess fuel burn decreasing as the flight distance increases.
  • The European ATM Master Plan, managed by SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking, defines a common vision and roadmap for ATM stakeholders to modernise and harmonise European ATM systems, including an aspirational goal to reduce average CO2 emission per flight by 5-10% (0.8-1.6 tonnes) by 2035 through enhanced cooperation, compared to 2017.
  • Single European Sky (SES) union-wide environment targets were not reached during the entire Reference Period 2 (RP2) (2015-2019), with performance worsening in the second part of RP2. In 2020, whilst performance did improve, several Member States still did not achieve their environment targets despite the dramatic drop in traffic due to the pandemic.
  • The KPI reflecting the relationship between flight routing and environmental impact is considered inadequate and needs to be re-evaluated, taking into account environmental indicators based on actual CO2 emissions.
  • As traffic returns to pre-COVID levels, efficiency improvements observed in 2020 should be maintained through ‘green’ recovery principles such as dynamic use of airspace constraints that are only applied when justified and the use of optimised flight planning by aircraft operators.
  • It was estimated that, in 2018, 21% of European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) flights performed fuel tankering, representing a net saving of €265 million per year for the airlines, but burning an unnecessary 286,000 tonnes of additional fuel (equivalent to 0.54% of ECAC jet fuel used).   

7 The 10th percentile (XFB10) reference means in effect that for a city pair / aircraft type combination 90% of flights burnt more fuel than the reference and 10% of lights burnt the equivalent or less fuel.



  • In 2020, EASA launched the Environmental Portal to facilitate sharing of Aircraft Noise Certificate information together with the ANP Database for sharing Aircraft Noise and Performance data.
  • During 2020, approximately 50% of operations in Europe were by aircraft compliant with the latest Chapter 14 noise standard.
  • There are significant delays in approving and implementing the Performance Based Navigation transition plans, which in turn delays the achievement of environmental benefits.
  • As the aviation sector evolves to respond to environmental challenges, and new market segments are created, airport infrastructure also needs to adapt accordingly.
  • By 2030, the European Green Deal’s Zero Pollution Action Plan aims to reduce the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30% and improve air quality to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55% (compared to 2017).
  • In 2020, the Airport Carbon Accreditation Programme added Levels 4 (Transformation) and 4+ (Transition) to support airports in achieving net zero CO2 emissions and to align it with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Aerial view of airport


Market-Based Measures

  • During 2013-2020, the EU Emissions Trading System led to a total reduction in aviation net CO2 emissions of 159 Mt (approximately equivalent to the annual emissions of the Netherlands in 2018) through funding of emissions reductions in other sectors.
  • Monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions under the ICAO Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) began in 2019. 88 States volunteered to participate in the CORSIA offsetting pilot phase from 2021, including all EU and EFTA States. This has increased to 107 States in 2022 and represents a majority of ICAO Member States.
  • The environmental integrity of offsets depends on their ability to demonstrate that the emissions reductions would not have occurred in the absence of the market mechanism that funds the offset.
  • At COP26 in 2021, accounting rules under the Paris Agreement were agreed for international transfers of carbon market units, including the avoidance of double-counting of emission reductions in respect of CORSIA and nationally determined contributions by countries under the Climate Change Convention.
  • International cooperation is key in building capacity to address the global environmental and sustainability challenges facing the aviation sector. EU funded action has enhanced the relationship with partner States on implementing CORSIA and other areas of environmental protection.
  • Other measures linked to carbon pricing initiatives that are relevant for the aviation sector are being discussed in Europe.