New Signs Air Transportation Industry Is Going Green

airplane taking offAlthough the airline industry finally recovered from 9/11, new factors are threatening the industry as we’ve seen this week with the closure of Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines.

With the price of fuel increasing, fuel has become the largest expense for airlines. Airlines can only increase their fares so far without turning their customers away completely. One of the ramifications for this development is that airlines are actively researching and testing methods to increase fuel efficiency and, in the process, reduce greenhouse gases.

In a recent article, Sustainable Industries highlights new green innovations in the air transportation industry.

  • New flight patterns result in more efficient flights– UPS has been experimenting with a continuous descent pattern that cuts an average of 50 gallons of fuel for each flight, reduces nitrogen oxide emissions, and cuts noise. The FAA is currently implementing this descent pattern in several airports to test the results. In addition, the FAA is attempting to set up more direct routes to shorten flights.
  • Traffic control – Another important change is underway to upgrade the air traffic control system to work off of GPS technology rather than ground radar. This system, Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), pioneered and used by UPS for years, has shown an increase in flight efficiency and fuel savings. The FAA is currently testing this system on test planes in Alaska and plans to install the system throughout the United States. The full build out is likely to take 12 years to complete.
  • New generation of airplanes – Two airplane manufacturers are launching new plane models, the Airbus 380 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, that are built to be more efficient in flight and in the manufacturing process. Boeing is also researching and developing ways to recycle planes that are no longer in use.
  • New fuel mixes – Another initiative in the works is to identify another fuel source that is secure, cost effective, and sustainable. In January 2008, the FAA launched the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative to collect and share data about alternative jet fuels between key players in the industry, including government agencies, commercial airlines, airplane manufacturers and biofuel companies. Although a few test flights have been made using various fuel mixes, it may be several years before the industry uses alternative fuels as their standard.

Any environmental shifts in the airline industry will have a positive ripple effect throughout the economy. Not only do new career categories and green jobs come into play (producing new fuels, building new planes, implementing the new GPS radar system), but the impact of transporting products and supplies improves as well.

  1. David Zetland

    Let’s please also pay attention to the economics of air travel. The closure of Aloha and other, loss-making airlines is not a “threat” to the industry, but a good sign of chopping away inefficient businesses. There are many examples of zombie airlines (Alitalia) and US government-subsidized airlines that continue to fly and make losses — often with less than full capacity.

    If we care about the earth, we should be flying planes that are FULL. Thus, we see that good economics and ecology can go hand-in-hand.

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