Open rotor engines, all-carbon airframes and synthetic fuels could all help reduce airline industry carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2012, a new study says.
Changing air traffic management and airline operations have also been identified as ways to reduce emissions within the industry, which the study's author believes will add little or no cost to operators.
The results of the research by Professor Andreas Shafer of University College London were published in Nature Climate Change today.
The air transportation industry accounts for 2.5 percent of global fuel combustion-related carbon dioxide emissions and has been on the increase.
Since the 1980s, emissions have taken off by 3.6 percent per year. Governments and airline associations have been looking into ways to cut their emissions, but the economic benefits aren't well known, Prof Shafer says.
The paper looks at 21 options to lower emissions from the US domestic aviation sector, which is the world's largest air transport system. It also focuses on narrow-body aircraft, which seat between 100 and 189, which is responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions.
Improvements to aircraft design and management could contribute a 20 percent reduction in emissions each, with new synthetic fuels from biomass adding another 10 percent decrease, Prof Shafer believes.
Around three-quarters of potential emissions reductions could be met by applying the cost-effective options at oil prices between US$50 and US$100 per barrel.
The amount of emissions also depends on the fleet size.
The research shows that if the number of planes grows below 2 percent a year, emissions could be lower in 2050 compared to 2012. The current anticipated growth rate is 1.5 percent a year.
However, an increase above 2.6 percent would overtake any potential decreases that are put forward in the study.