Flying to Gozo more than double emissions of cars driving from MIA

An environmental impact assessment for a proposed Gozo airstrip confirms that carbon emissions will increase if the planes operating the service use jet fuel

An environmental impact assessment for a proposed Gozo airstrip confirms that carbon emissions will increase if the planes operating the service use jet fuel.

They carbon emissions generated will be more than double the emissions of cars travelling from the Malta airport to Gozo.

The EIA confirms that the proposed airfield in Gozo will introduce a new source of carbon emissions from aircraft, if the Xewkija helipad is extended into a 450m runway suitable for small aircraft.

Although no agricultural land will be used to extend the runway, this does not exclude other significant impacts like those on Malta’s climate change commitments.

To mitigate this major impact, the EIA recommends that the air service provider be “encouraged” to adopt “an all-electric aircraft fleet by 2025” by including such a provision in the tender document for the selection of the prospective operator.

But it remains unclear whether this provision will be mandatory. The report does not consider the impact of the airstrip and the use of such al-electric aircraft on the national grid, which in turn relies on gas and non-renewable energy imported through the interconnector.

Moreover, although the technology for the electrification this sector is evolving at a fast rate, most aircraft in the market are still jet-fuelled. Presently an estimated 200 global companies are currently pursuing electric plane projects, some of which have already made short and successful test flights.

Electric planes, like electric cars, rely on battery-generated electricity for power, rather than standard liquid jet fuel. Yet today’s batteries aren’t nearly as energy-dense as jet fuel, requiring bulk and weight that pose significant aerodynamic challenges. But the technology is more ideal for short take-off and landing (STOL) planes like the 9 to 11 passenger-seat planes required for the Gozo airstrip. Israel’s Eviation has developed a nine-seat electric plane called Alice, which is set to start flying next year.

The impact assessment includes a calculation comparing carbon emissions from aircraft, to the amount that would be saved from the roads. The fuel emissions from aviation and the saved carbon emissions from road transport were compared as part of the economic analysis.

Considering a total of 242,303 litres of fuel consumption per year emanating from the air-link service between Malta and Gozo, and a carbon-equivalent content (for the type of fuel used by piston-engine islander aircrafts) of 3.1kg per litre of fuel and a price of €35 per tonne of carbon dioxide, the external cost of emissions from inter-island air transport service is estimated at €26,290 per annum.

The equivalent of carbon emissions from car trips from Malta International Airport to Cirkewwa and from Mgarr Harbour to the Gozo Heliport is estimated at 104,675 litres of fuel, which is valued at €8,793 per annum.

By comparing the value of saved fuel emissions from the road to the emissions generated by the STOL aircraft providing the air transport service, “it is clear that there would be a resultant net increase in carbon emissions,” the study concludes.