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Quiz: How Green Is Air Travel?

What you don’t know about the aviation industry’s growth—and advances— just might surprise you.

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An airplane taxis on a runway at night at the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan. A 2016 international agreement will eventually make reducing or offsetting carbon emissions mandatory for countries, like Japan, that have major aviation industries.


Air travel is big, big business. With 3.8 billion passengers a year and 9.9 million people employed, aviation adds 3.5 percent to the global economy. But what about the toll it takes on the environment?

Engineers, designers, and scientists are already working on ways to make air travel more green—and now the aviation industry has an even greater incentive. The push is 2016’s landmark international agreement on aviation emissions, which eventually will make offsetting or reducing carbon emissions mandatory for countries with major aviation industries.

So cue the design modifications, new technologies, better fuel alternatives, and other developments. Collectively they work to make flight more fuel efficient—and less fuel burned correlates with fewer greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

This article is part of our Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.