Sustainability in aerospace is being achieved on multiple levels. Most corporate websites and annual reports feature prominent discussions of how their company is achieving sustainability in their activities.
Sustainability is achieved when three conditions are present.
- Resources are consumed more slowly than the environment replenishes the resource
- Non-renewable resources are consumed more slowly than acceptable alternatives to the natural resources can be identified and used
- Waste produced during a process is released at a rate slower than the environment can naturally handle and neutralise any negative impact that the waste produces.
These three conditions can be used to evaluate four major processes within the aerospace field. These are:
1. Raw Material Acquisition – The materials used in aerospace manufacturing are frequently exotic, rare and in some cases hazardous in nature. Businesses must evaluate their supply chain partners as well as their own material handling process in this area. This scrutiny should include the methods and sustainable processes employed in the extraction of the material in question as well as the transportation, packaging and storage.
2. Manufacturing – Manufacturing processes frequently employ extremely hazardous chemicals or other materials that result in hazardous waste. These are reduced through the use of alternative materials. An example is composites versus aluminum, titanium or other common aerospace metals. Metals often require surface preparation processes that result in dangerous waste. Additional sustainability benefits can be found in the manufacturing techniques used. 3D printing being a waste free process compared to machining parts from metal billet.
3. Use / Reuse Maintenance – Aerospace is expensive and typically the products used are expected to remain in services for many years. Redesigning existing products to render them more sustainable is preferable to building entirely new products. An example of this would be in use of winglets and modification kits that provide winglets to existing aircraft. The winglets provide measurable improvements in performance of the aircraft in the form of reduced fuel consumption. Couple that with more efficient engine design and the use of composite parts can change the entire performance profile of an existing aircraft.
4. Recycle and Waste Management – Employing processes that recapture and reutilise materials wasted during the production process minimises the need to extract and acquire that material from outside sources.
Sustainability is more than a warm and fuzzy message for the public. It offers real economy and benefit to the manufacturer and business. It extends our supply of natural resources and preserves the quality of our living space. But, beyond that, the requirements, legally and from a regulatory perspective make this an essential aspect of any aerospace operation.
Sustainability is good business and good global citizenship.