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Health benefits of green aviation

10/26/2021 | Environment International

Our new study found that alternative jet fuels can decrease premature death rates in communities near airports and downwind, but there is more work to be done to make aviation impact-free.

The study, published in Environment International, analyzed data from landings and take-offs (LTOs) of commercial aircraft at airports in the continental U.S. in 2011 and 2016. Researchers looked at fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations and quantified impacts from two scenarios where 5% or 50% blends of sustainable alternative jet fuel are implemented.

The study was led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment and the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“This analysis provides further evidence for the enormous, but often overlooked, burden that direct exposure to NO2 has on mortality and asthma. Our new platform is able to begin shining a light on the serious health burden of NO2 exposure, and the benefits of strategies that reduce NO2 emissions,” said Jonathan Buonocore Sc.D., Research Scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE.

Key takeaways:

  • Implementing a 5% or 50% blend of sustainable alternative jet fuel in 2016 results in a 1% or 18% reduction, respectively in premature mortalities attributed to PM2.5.
  • NO2 plays a larger role in premature deaths and asthma exacerbations from aviation than previously thought. Switching to more sustainable jet fuels does little to mitigate health risks related to NO2.
  • California was most impacted by emissions, with New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, and Ohio also experiencing high impacts.


  • An estimated 80 and 88 premature mortalities from PM2.5 and 610 and 1,100 premature mortalities attributed to NO2 in 2011 and 2016, respectively.
  • An estimated net decrease of 28 and 54 premature mortalities attributed to O3 across the U.S. in 2011 and 2016, respectively.
  • Asthma exacerbations due to NO2 exposures from airport emissions increased from 100,000 in 2011 to 170,000 in 2016.
  • 50%-blended sustainable alternative jet fuel results in a 19% decrease in PM2.5 damages per ton of fuel burned and a 2% decrease in total damages per ton of fuel burned compared to damages from traditional jet fuel.
  • Premature mortalities from LTO attributed to PM2.5 and NO2 increased by 10% and 80%, respectively from 2011 to 2016, and NO2 was responsible for over 90% of deaths in both years.
  • Premature mortalities attributed to NO2 are responsible for 91% of total premature mortalities from LTO in both 2011 and 2016. Since this NO2 attributed to LTO is unaffected by the implementation of alternative jet fuels, additional approaches focused on NOX reductions in the combustor are needed to mitigate the NO2-related health impacts from LTO emissions.
  • Premature deaths attributed to PM2.5 and NO2 from LTO increased from 2011 to 2016 by 10% and 80% respectively.

Read the study

Read the press release


“Air quality and health-related impacts of traditional and alternate jet fuels from airport aircraft operations in the U.S.” was authored by Calvin A. Arter, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Chowdhury Moniruzzaman, Dongmei Yang, Jiaoyan Huanga, Saravanan Arunachalama.