Boeing is buying a software company that it says will make planes more fuel efficient.
The purchase of ETS Aviation of Bristol, England, will also help prepare airlines for a new challenge. That's because the company can measure carbon use.
And the aerospace industry, one of the heaviest emitters of greenhouse gases, is starting to accept that global controls on carbon emissions are probably coming.
Airlines want fuel efficiency because it saves them money. It improves their ability to compete, so they want anything that helps. What the industry does not want is carbon regulation. Europe has already started to regulate this. The International Civil Aviation Organization is pushing for a global carbon emissions standard in six years.
Ross Macfarlane, an advisor at Climate Solutions in Seattle, said Boeing understands it has to respond to these demands.
"The industry has said in a variety of situations that its license to fly is at stake," he said. “I know that they are taking it seriously and they need to take it seriously."
Macfarlane said Boeing is also going beyond fuel-saving plane designs by developing alternative fuels. But air travel around the world is growing. Boeing expects the world's commercial aircraft fleet to be double its current size in the next 20 years.
Keeping those planes flying – and meeting a global emissions standard – will require whole refineries worth of alternative fuel, Macfarlane said.
Correction 5/30/2014: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Boeing expects its commercial fleet to triple in the next 20 years.