The aeronautics industry’s initiatives for a sustainable economy

2 October 2023

The challenges facing the aeronautics sector as it strives to become a more sustainable industry


The aviation industry has a significant impact on global pollution, particularly because of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by aircraft. Although between 2000 and 2021, GHG emissions from air transport will have fallen by an average of 1.4% per year, according to the French Ministry for Energy Transition, the aeronautics sector remains one of the most polluting industries today: 


  • CO2 emissions: aircraft burn large quantities of fossil fuel (mainly paraffin) to operate, and so emit CO2, which is the major greenhouse gas. 
  • Emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) and fine particles: emitted by aircraft engines, NOx has an impact on air quality, as do fine particles and condensation trails, which contribute to the global warming effect. 


However, the aeronautics industry and the major French companies in this sector are aware of these issues and are working to improve their energy efficiency in order to reduce the industry’s environmental impact. Several initiatives and technologies have been, or are being, developed: 


  • More “eco-efficient” aircraft: manufacturers are working to improve the energy efficiency of their aircraft, with new generations of aircraft that are lighter and designed with composite materials and more efficient engines, which would reduce their fuel consumption and thus their CO2 emissions. This is the case, for example, with Airbus’ A320 Neo aircraft. 


  • Biofuels, or more sustainable fuels: the aviation industry is actively working on the use of biofuels and sustainable fuels based on renewable raw materials. For example, BAF (Bio-aviation fuel) is a fuel produced from organic matter, such as vegetable oils (palm or soya oil), animal fats, starch, certain algae or sugar. 


  • Hybrid and electric engines: to reduce the carbon footprint of short-haul and regional flights, the industry is looking at hybrid and electric propulsion technologies. 


  • Optimizing flight operations: airlines are looking for solutions to improve air traffic management, in particular by optimizing routes and descent approaches, in order to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. 


  • Aircraft recycling: finally, the industry is also focusing on the recycling and dismantling of aircraft at the end of their lives, in order to recover and reuse materials and minimize waste. 


These advances show that there is still a long way to go in research and innovation for a more sustainable aviation industry. Such initiatives require concerted action between companies, research teams and governments, in order to achieve ambitious targets in terms of reducing greenhouse gasses.  


In the south-west of France and in the Basque Country, where a major center of expertise in aeronautics is concentrated, a number of companies have already put in place initiatives to promote a more circular and responsible industry. 


A few examples of responsible initiatives among aeronautical companies in south-west France and the Basque Country


Recycling aircraft and their parts is a major challenge for this industry, in order to develop the circular economy in a major market. Optima Aero is a Canadian company based in Anglet in the Basque Country, specializing in the dismantling and recycling of helicopters. Optima Aero chose the Basque Country because of its proximity to the major companies in the French aeronautics ecosystem: Safran Helicopters, Airbus, Thales, etc. Optima Aero responds to major questions and trends in the industry: how can we reduce the environmental impact of the aeronautics sector? How can we capitalize on the resources already produced to offer a new, more sustainable product? 


Among the major French aerospace companies, Airbus has put in place a number of initiatives to promote the circular economy. For example, the “Second life for composite” initiative enables carbon waste from aircraft production to be reused by transforming it into useful products, such as protective helmets or phone covers! The company is also working on new ranges of more eco-efficient aircraft, such as the A350 XWB. Airbus is also involved in research into sustainable biofuels.


Safran, which specializes in aeronautical equipment and in particular aircraft engines, has committed itself to new recycling technologies for aeronautical materials, such as titanium alloys, with a view to reintroducing them into the production of new products. 


For its part, Dassault Aviation, a company specializing in the design and manufacture of business and military aircraft, is developing technologies aimed at reducing the fuel consumption of its aircraft, in order to improve their energy efficiency. 


This ecosystem of major French aerospace companies can also count on Thales, a company specializing in electronic systems for aerospace, defense and security, which is working on the development of technologies to improve the operational efficiency of aircraft and reduce their environmental impact. 


The advantages of the Basque Country for setting up a company in the aeronautics sector


Aeronautics, as well as mechatronics and composites, are very rich and dynamic sectors in the Basque Country. With its world-renowned business environment and recognised competitiveness clusters such as Technocité and Aerospace Valley, the Basque Country is an ideal location for aeronautical companies looking to set up business. At the crossroads of numerous road, rail and air routes, the Basque Country enjoys a strategic location, close to Bordeaux and Toulouse, where the major French aeronautical groups are based. Thanks to ESTIA, a renowned engineering school, our region also has the qualified training and major skills needed to develop the aeronautics industry. 


Basque Invest is proud to have helped several companies in the circular economy and aeronautics industry to set up in the Basque Country, including Optima Aero in 2022. Our knowledge of the ecosystem of companies in the aeronautical and circular economy sectors, but above all of the environment of the Basque Country, means we can give you the best possible advice and direct you to the right people to help you set up successfully in the Basque Country. Let’s discuss it!

Source : ADEME (Agence de la transition écologique) ; Air & Cosmos ; Sustainable Aviation Futures ; CNI (Conseil National de l’Industrie) ; Ministère de l’économie des finances et de la souveraineté industrielle & numérique ; CORAC (Organisme de concertation entre l’industrie et l’Etat pour l’orientation de la recherche aéronautique civile)