Indicator Assessment

Within the last years intensive efforts have been made in order to balance the need for an efficient air transport system and the negative effects of growing air transport with regard to sustainability issues. Especially in the field of environment the pressure to decouple growing demand and economic benefits from a higher emissions development path and noise exposure is immense. Thus, expected demand for air services may collide with the need for a sustainable air transport system.

Addressing this problem, an evaluation of the air transport development regarding a general sustainable development is needed to achieve orientation for further improvements in the air transport sector. On this basis the detailed MONITOR indicator system was developed, which deals with the long-term global air transport development from a long-term time horizon of more than two decades. It considers an economic, ecological and social perspective and is capable of a continuous analysis of main trends with regard to the three pillars of sustainability. The complete set of these single indicators can be found here.

Besides the consideration of these separate indicators, a first assessment of the status quo of the past and current sustainability degree of the air transport system has been undertaken by a comparative analysis of selected indicators. These were chosen according to their ability for providing a primary impression of the general development of the air transport system. Thus, they allowed putting concrete observations into relation to existing sustainability and strategic goals from politics and industry in a later step.

The chosen indicators for the indicator assessment deal with different components of the air transport system or, in concrete, with system internal and external components. The group of Performance Indicators (PIs), which cover the air transport system internal point of view, is exemplary described by the specific fuel consumption and productivity. The Sustainable Development Indicators (SDIs) are represented by the indicators of mobility, the degree of safety (development of accidents) and emissions that reflect air transport developments with a superior meaning for the overall sustainability. The chosen indicator examples therefore allow a short but comprehensive evaluation of air transport trends. As far as data was available, the indicators show the period from 1990 to 2011 to present a long-term view which enables the recognition of clear trends. With regard to a better comparison they were indexed in reference to the year 1990 and merged in the figure above.

  • Productivity
  • Fuel Consumption
  • CO2 Emissions
  • Accidents
  • Mobility
The indicator for indexed productivity (generally measured in departures of all IATA airlines per IATA airline employee) as example for trends at airlines shows a rising trend curve as the productivity could be enhanced between the years 1990 and 2011 by about 37%. This means that less personnel was needed over the years in order to realise the same amount of traffic which is given in departures. However, the interpretation of the reasons of this productivity increase has to be made carefully as it could be the case that some airlines have outsourced their personnel which is then not counted in the IATA statistics anymore. In addition, it is probable that especially through the rise of low-cost carriers and their tendency to operate shorter routes, flight legs have become shorter over time and thus, each employee can work more flight legs. That is why the observed trend should not be over-estimated although it gives a clear indication of a general increase of productivity.
The indicator for the specific fuel consumption (representing trends at airlines) is a further performance indicator and very important as it reflects indirectly the technological development of the global aircraft fleet with corresponding influence on CO2 emssions resulting from air transport operatations. In this context, the indicator development which is expressed by the graph shows in general a positive tendency. Between 1990 and 2008, the period for which data was available from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), the specific fuel consumption could be reduced by nearly 40% what remarks a considerable decrease.
Although the indicator for the specific fuel consumption shows in the long-term a positive tendency, it has to be regarded in connection with the indicator for the overall CO2 emissions from air transport. The course of the corresponding curve of this SDI for the environmental dimension of sustainability shows that within the same time span of 18 years, the overall CO2 emissions grew by approximately more than 30% caused by increased traffic. This development demonstrates that the decoupling of transport growth and its negative impacts with regard to the environment was obviously in the past not so successful as it is expressed by existing political goals.
The fourth indicator in the given figure deals with the development of fatal accidents per 1 million departures and was extracted from IATA statistics. It belongs to the social dimension of SDIs as safety means to increase the protection of human life and is one of the high-priority targets of nearly all institutions and organisations which have formulated objectives for the long-term air transport development. With regard to its statistical expressiveness, it has first to be said that safety is hard to measure. Drawing resilient conclusions from observed curve shapes remains for this reason a difficult task given the fact that the number of fatal accidents is a highly volatile indicator due to the unpredictability of these events. Nevertheless, the development of more than 20 years, which is shown in the overall indicator assessment, carefully indicates an improvement of safety as in general a continuous downward trend is visible.
The last indicator in the presented set deals with mobility (measured by the number of passengers per 1,000 inhabitants) and investigates the degree of air transport usage in relation to the global population development. Mobility is in this context also a core aspect of the social dimension of SDIs as it shows to which extent the society has access to the air transport system and can profit from the global network and the degree of connectivity this network offers. Addressing this function of air transport, the concrete indicator development which is expressed in the graph above, shows a considerable increase in the number of global passengers in relation to the world population as the indicator reflects a growth by more than 75% over the last 20 years.

Background on Strategic and Sustainable Development Goals

In a second step after the overall indicator assessment, concrete sustainability and strategic goals from the field of politics and industry can be reviewed for evaluating the observed trends with regard to their concrete impacts. Efficient priority and goal setting in relation to a deepened understanding of air transport developments and drivers can contribute in this context to solve the conflicts of air transport and its potential negative impacts. Following this approach, the understanding and assessment of overall global air transport trends in relation to existing (sustainable) development goals may serve as a first step and orientation for all involved actors. Furthermore, gaps between reality and preferred development paths can be identified which allow the deviation of suggestions for the strengthening of sustainability in the aviation industry and for improvements of the existing development and sustainability goals for the air transport sector.

Addressing this intention, the following table summarises all sustainability goals which were investigated in the context of this approach.

Overview on Sustainable Development Goals

UN (2012): Sustainable development goals from the UN resolution A/RES/66/288 World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2010): Vision 2050
  1. Efficient movement of people/goods
  1. Decrease of GHG-intensity of aviation by 50% up to 2050
  1. Access to environmentally sound, safe and affordable transportation: improvement of social equity, health, resilience of cities, etc.
  1. Increase of sustainable biofuel use in aviation by 30% up to 2030
  1. Road safety
  1. Sustainable, energy-efficient and multimodal public mass transportation systems
  1. Integrated approach to policymaking at national, regional and local levels
  1. Considering development needs of landlocked and transit developing countries

An analysis of the existing sustainable development goals from the field of politics shows that only a minority of actors have set up clear and aggregated sustainable development goals. Often these goals are focused on the transport sector in general, whereas concrete specifications for the aviation sector are even harder to find. The main guideline for the further analysis of the air transport development in the light of sustainability in the context of the MONITOR project was therefore primarily derived from the final resolution of the Rio+20 conference (UN 2012), as it includes at least two sections about sustainable transport and highlights the special function of transport to strengthen the overall economic development and to provide mobility opportunities. Another source for sustainable development goals has a minor coverage than the UN publication but the "Vision 2050", published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD 2010), lists at least two goals for the global air transport development.

Due to the small range of existing sustainable development goals for the air transport sector, some strategic priorities from air transport institutions and the air transport industry were also considered in the following analysis. They are summarised in the following table.

Overview on Strategic Development Goals

ICAO (2011): Strategic Objectives 2011-2013 IATA (2012): Priorities and Targets ACARE (2012): Flightpath 2050
  1. Safety: Enhance global civil aviation safety
  1. Safety: Improve global safety (especially in Africa)
  1. Meeting social and market needs
  1. Security: Enhance global civil aviation security
  1. Security: Improve security checkpoints
  1. Maintaining and extending industrial leadership
  1. Environmental protection and sustainable development of air transport
  1. Airlines revenues: Manage these securely/efficiently
  1. Protecting the environment and energy supply
  1. Value chains: Rebalance value chains, improve airline revenues, and reduce costs
  1. Ensuring safety and security
  1. Environment: Protect ability to grow sustainable
  1. Prioritising research, testing capabilities and education
  1. Regulatory: Protect members from burdensome regulation
  1. Value creation, reduced industry costs and improved customer service

The strategic development goals have a narrower focus than the sustainable development goals although they can be influenced by the last mentioned ones. They were mainly defined by industry associations or political bodies and organisations for the aviation sector without addressing the development postulates with regard to other sectors. Partly, they consist also rather of short-term objectives than of long-term ones. Additionally, framework developments which can influence the air transport sector's future perspectives are also only partly considered by these actors. Therefore, they have to be interpreted more carefully. However, strategic development goals play a notable role in designing an efficient air transport system in itself and in order to bring aviation in the right position to contribute to an overall sustainable development in the future.

According to the important functions and definitions of PIs and SDIs, suitable goals and development priorities of three important actors are shown in the table above. ICAO as United Nations specialised agency and global organisation with legitimation to set up international standards for civil aviation is the first one. IATA as the world's leading association of global airlines is a second important actor and publishes also regularly priorities and goals which are representative for its members. The Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (ACARE), a group of key stakeholders from the European aviation industry and research, which works on behalf of the European Union, finally completes this set. Although they come from a European perspective, their vision for aviation up to 2050 is relevant for the whole sector as air transport is a global business and ACARE considers global trends as well (ACARE, 2012).

Development tendencies

In the following the above selected indicators and their development are related to the sustainable and strategic development goals in order to evolve an assessment tool for the evaluation of the long-term development of the global air transport system. For this purpose, which was one main objective within the MONITOR project, each of the five sustainable and strategic development goals sets will be compared to the selected five indicators. The symbols under each matrix provide further information on the concrete assessment in this context.

  • UN
  • WBCSD
  • ICAO
  • IATA
  • ACARE
Development tendencies in relation to the UN resolution A/RES/66/288
Goals Indicators PI:
Productivity
PI:
Specific fuel consumption
SDI:
CO2 Emissions
SDI:
Accidents
SDI:
Mobility
  1. Efficient movement of people/goods
  1. Access to environmentally sound, safe and affordable transportation
  1. Road safety
  1. Sustainable, energy-efficient and multimodal public mass transportation systems
  1. Integrated approach to policymaking at national, regional and local levels
  1. Considering development needs of landlocked and transit developing countries
Desired Trend Increasing Tendency
Undesired Trend Decreasing Tendency
Development tendencies in relation to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Vision 2050)
Goals Indicators PI:
Productivity
PI:
Specific fuel consumption
SDI:
CO2 Emissions
SDI:
Accidents
SDI:
Mobility
  1. Decrease of GHG-intensity of aviation by 50% up to 2050
  1. Increase of sustainable biofuel use in aviation by 30% up to 2030
Desired Trend Increasing Tendency
Undesired Trend Decreasing Tendency
Development tendencies in relation to ICAO's strategic objectives 2011-2013
Goals Indicators PI:
Productivity
PI:
Specific fuel consumption
SDI:
CO2 Emissions
SDI:
Accidents
SDI:
Mobility
  1. Safety: Enhance global civil aviation safety
  1. Security: Enhance global civil aviation security
  1. Environmental protection and sustainable development of air transport
Desired Trend Increasing Tendency
Undesired Trend Decreasing Tendency
Development tendencies in relation to IATA's priorities and targets
Goals Indicators PI:
Productivity
PI:
Specific fuel consumption
SDI:
CO2 Emissions
SDI:
Accidents
SDI:
Mobility
  1. Safety: Improve global safety (especially in Africa)
  1. Security: Improve security checkpoints
  1. Airlines revenues: Manage these securely/efficiently
  1. Value chains: Rebalance value chains, improve airline revenues, and reduce costs
  1. Environment: Protect ability to grow sustainable
  1. Regulatory: Protect members from burdensome regulation
  1. Value creation, reduced industry costs and improved customer service
Desired Trend Increasing Tendency
Undesired Trend Decreasing Tendency
Development tendencies in relation to the ACARE Flightpath 2050 objectives
Goals Indicators PI:
Productivity
PI:
Specific fuel consumption
SDI:
CO2 Emissions
SDI:
Accidents
SDI:
Mobility
  1. Meeting social and market needs
  1. Maintaining and extending industrial leadership
  1. Protecting the environment and energy supply
  1. Ensuring safety and security
  1. Prioritising research, testing capabilities and education
Desired Trend Increasing Tendency
Undesired Trend Decreasing Tendency