Airbus’s delivery to Lufthansa of the first A320neo powered by Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (GTF) engines marks a key milestone for commercial air travel and a major advance in cleaner aviation. Green aviation starts here.

These new GTF engines will cut fuel consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) by 16%, reduce regulated emissions by 50% and lower the noise footprint by 75% from the day they enter revenue service. This is a tangible step toward providing cleaner, greener and quieter air transport today. 

Much attention has been given recently to potential aircraft propulsion by alternate energy sources such as electric engines and direct solar—or even nuclear—power. While alternative sources may hold future possibilities, it will be in the distant future. As an engine manufacturer, we closely monitor developments in these areas to be prepared to maximize any breakthroughs that make them practical. The reality is, though, that the future of cleaner aviation for the next several decades rests with gas turbine propulsion. 

The A320neo milestone is an example of uniting an industry with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases while reaping the benefits of using less fuel. Lufthansa, for example, aims to reduce specific CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020. Leveraging the benefits of the GTF engine will help it meet that goal. 

The reduction in emissions led by the GTF engine will allow airlines to avoid 160 million tons of CO2 emissions through 2025 and cut carbon emissions by more than 3,600 metric tons—equivalent to planting nearly 1 million trees or taking 3 million cars off the road every year.

And this is the reality for several decades to come. 

The Geared Turbofan engine is incredibly scalable. The “PurePower Advantage” upgrade for the PW1100G-JM engine will reduce fuel burn and CO2 emissions by an additional 2% in 2019. Steps beyond this are attainable with the architecture that relies on geared technology, itself the result of more than 25 years of engineering innovation. Pratt & Whitney is not alone in such technology; others are now evaluating their own geared approach. 

Of course, the engine’s geared technology is what drives savings. To further curb emissions, Lufthansa is committed to the use of sustainable alternative fuels, becoming the first airline worldwide to use a biofuel mix in scheduled daily operations. The GTF engine is already validated for a variety of advanced biofuels, and we are co-leading the process of approving even more.

Government entities and industry groups have also turned a keen eye toward reducing aviation emissions. In mid-2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a major effort to reduce CO2 emissions related to air travel. The EPA published a report as the first step in the development of new CO2 emissions requirements for airlines. While regulations mandating reduced CO2 emissions from airlines and aircraft operators are several years away at best, the industry is already acting. 

The International Air Transport Association has established an aggressive set of goals to reduce CO2 emissions from air transportation. These include improving fuel efficiency by 1.5% per year from 2009-20; capping net aviation CO2 emissions in 2020 (carbon-neutral growth); and reducing net aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.

The environmental benefits of the GTF engine—16% reduction in fuel burn and 50% reduction in regulated emissions—are so significant that all of the world’s single-aisle airliner manufacturers have either announced new aircraft or are reengining existing models. 

In the coming years, airlines and aircraft operators will continue to incorporate new technologies to reduce their environmental footprint. This can be done in many ways throughout their operations, but the one certain way to achieve marked improvement now through the next few decades is with mechanical propulsion. 

The GTF engine exemplifies the long-term commitment United Technologies Corp. has to innovation and sustainability in products and operations. UTC and Pratt & Whitney are committed to keeping the GTF engine as the green solution of propulsion technology for a cleaner world for decades to come.  

Greg Gernhardt is the Pratt & Whitney Commercial Engines president.