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Air quality and pollution at airports

Air quality at airports represents a significant health-risk to aviation workers – particularly ground staff.

At Safe Landing, a group of our members have been working on a motion to clean up jet fuel. Cleaner fuel would not only improve air quality for workers and local residents, but also result in reduced contrail formation – which would mean significantly less global heating as a result of flying.

We have prepared a motion that can be taken by any trade union member to their reps or next branch meeting. For help with this please contact us – [email protected] 

The proposal:

The proposal is to ‘hydrotreat’ kerosene (jet fuel) during production, so that it burns more cleanly. This would address two issues caused by burning jet fuel in an aircraft engine:

The health impacts caused by ultrafine particles (UFPs) emitted by aircraft during ground operations, taxi, take-off & landing, etc., which affect workers, customers and communities.

  1. The climate impacts caused by soot (and water etc.) emitted by aircraft during cruise, which lead to contrail cirrus cloud formation and cause a significant global warming effect.

By reducing certain compounds, e.g. aromatics, naphthalene and sulphur (ANS) , within jet fuel as it’s produced at the refinery – it appears possible to quickly and substantially reduce these impacts. 

The refinery process is called ‘hydrotreatment’ and is already used for producing diesel. It would be:

Quick: it can be implemented within a few years, compared to a few decades for “SAF”. 

Effective: Measurements show that reduced ANS jet fuel can improve air quality. Flight tests have shown that reduced ANS jet fuel can significantly reduce soot emissions, ice crystals and therefore should reduce contrail formation. EASA has also proposed this solution.

Cheap: compared to “SAF” (which is several times more expensive than kerosene), hydrotreating jet fuel is very low cost and increases fuel price by only a few percent.

Cleaner jet fuel is likely to have many benefits and few downsides – any technical risks related to low ANS fuel need to be addressed for (low ANS) ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’ (‘SAF’) use and are already being mitigated. The small incremental cost of jet fuel would result in more employment for workers – e.g. installing/operating new refinery equipment, within fuel logistics and monitoring fuel & air quality.  

There is currently no incentive (financial or legal), for producers to supply and for airlines to demand jet fuel with lower ANS content, so hydrotreating jet fuel isn’t usually done. However, there is existing variation in ANS concentration due to regional variations in the composition of crude oil supply. It should therefore be very quick and easy to test and demonstrate the benefits of lower ANS jet fuel.

Read/download our full motion on cleaner kerosene

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