Implications of future atmospheric composition in decision-making for sustainable aviation

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Aviation emissions lead to degraded air quality and adverse human health impacts, making air quality one of the leading environmental externalities associated with aviation. Aviation emissions have been growing steadily over the past decades, and, despite the current hindrance in air traffic due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, they are forecasted to continue to grow in the long-term. As a result, mitigating aviation’s adverse air quality impacts is an increasingly pressing challenge for the aviation industry. At the same time, the aviation industry has inherently long timelines, indicating that sustainability-related regulatory and technological decisions made presently will take effect over the next 30+ years. Over such timelines, the changing atmospheric composition, driven by meteorological and background (non-aviation) emissions changes, results in a changing atmospheric response to emissions. This work summarizes recent advancements on this and discusses their implications for the aviation sector. First, aviation emissions and the resulting air quality impacts are described. The role of the atmospheric sensitivities to emissions and their evolution over time is then discussed. Finally, the implications for the long timelines associated with aviation mitigation options are underlined. Current challenges as well as opportunities for future research to resolve current assessment shortcomings are also presented.
Original languageEnglish
Article number031002
Number of pages4
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • air quality
  • aviation emissions
  • environmental assessments
  • sustainable aviation
  • decision-making
  • Aviation emissions
  • Decision-making
  • Environmental assessments
  • Air quality
  • Sustainable aviation


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