2010 Science, Technology and Environment

Carl Burleson

Leading government and industry to deliver a quieter, cleaner and more energy-efficient aviation system.

Carl Burleson has dedicated his federal career to the greening of aviation, working successfully with industry, academia and government partners to make the United States a world leader in reducing air and noise pollution from commercial aircraft.

As director of energy and environment at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Burleson has taken important steps to gather data and bring industry, government and other stakeholders together to develop solutions. This includes fostering the use of alternative fuels, accelerating development of new lower noise and emission technologies, as well as integrating environment and energy issues into strategies for modernizing the U.S. aviation system.

Each year, more than 17 billion gallons of fuel are used by commercial airplanes in the United States alone, accounting for about three percent of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and effect local air quality at major airports located in urban areas around the country.

“This isn’t just about being environmentally friendly, it’s about doing the right thing to make aviation cleaner, quieter and sustainable as it grows,” said Burleson.

In 2003, Burleson launched the Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER) Center of Excellence, enlisting academic and research organizations to better understand problems and design solutions. The center is already having a significant impact domestically and internationally in finding more cost-effective solutions to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.

“The center was initially set up with an emphasis on noise issues, but Carl refocused it to emissions and the environment as well. Early on he thought quite broadly about the kinds of information they would need to be effective,” said Ian Waitz, director of PARTNER and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Burleson has also engaged the aviation industry on ways they can improve.

“Industry tends to distrust government, which is unfortunate because we need to work toward common goals,” said Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association. “Carl has the industry’s trust because he’s been an honest broker. He listens and continues a dialogue on both sides to make sure his recommendations are balanced.”

In 2006, Burleson helped create the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, which seeks to enhance our energy security and environmental sustainability through alternative jet fuels. In 2009, this work paid off with the first new fuel standard in 20 years. With continued effort, viable, sustainable alternative jet fuels will be available in marketable quantities in the next five years.

Additionally, Burleson’s leadership was integral in fashioning a plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which places a strong emphasis on the environment and energy usage.

The FAA’s NextGen plan is a wide-ranging transformation of the national air transportation system that is designed to meet future demands and avoid gridlock in the sky and in the airports. It would apply new technologies to the nation’s airspace system to ensure safety, security, capacity and environmental needs, including reductions in noise, emissions and energy impacts.

“Aviation runs between five and nine percent of our gross national product, so it’s positive if aviation grows. But that growth needs to be accomplished in a way that reduces aviation’s environmental footprint,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “Thanks in large part to the work of Carl and his team, we are positioned to continue to reduce aviation’s noise and emissions even as aviation activity grows over the long-term.”

Burleson is also the U.S. representative at the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), where he has advanced cost-effective aircraft noise and emissions standards and policies to support sustainable aviation growth.

At the most recent meeting of the U.N. group, there was agreement for a new standard to lower nitrous oxide emissions from aircraft engines and a program to establish the first ever carbon dioxide certification standard for aircraft. He is also participating in U.S. efforts at ICAO to gain agreement on greenhouse gas emission goals for the global aviation sector.

“Literally, the world needs him,” said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation for the Aerospace Industries Association. “Politicians feel like they need to please their constituents in the short term. It’s only people like Carl, career public servants, who can look down the road and plan for our nation and our health. If it weren’t for guys like Carl, we wouldn’t see the changes we’re going to see.”