Not very long ago, “flying green” looked like the most important challenge in aviation.
Not very long ago, “flying green” looked like the most important challenge in aviation. Then along came the global economic crisis, and the issue quietly receded from the spotlight. For more than a year now, discussions about the environment have taken a back seat to stories of financial loss, unattainable credit and reduced flight operations. But now, looking beyond the current malaise, we can see that much of what once seemed distant is in fact rapidly approaching.
Most significantly, as the result of a directive passed in 2008, the Council of the European Union is planning to include “all flights by eligible aircraft arriving at and departing from EU airports” in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The date for implementation is Jan. 1, 2012.
The Europeans have set the deadline over the protestations of much of the international community. From their perspective, the matter is so important that they are unwilling to wait for international agreement. Legislation currently being developed by individual European countries will require operators to report and account for their greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis. To comply, operators must ensure that they have enough carbon credits for the fuel burned on flights to, from and within the EU. These obligations are mandatory.
Internationally, many operators have already begun to employ a host of strategies to improve efficiency. Not long ago, Emirates decided to pull together all of the wisdom in the industry to plan “the ideal environmentally-sound flight.” Calling it the “Emvironment flight,” the airline chose as its test case a new route from Dubai to San Francisco. The flight took place last December.
Starting with the premise that upwards of 98 per cent of an airline’s environmental impact is based on aircraft types and how they are flown, the airline focused on aircraft design, selection and ATC.
For the flight, they chose a brand new Boeing 777-200LR. To reduce weight, they analyzed everything on board from curtain materials to service trolleys to food packaging. By the time the flight took place, the airline had already spent a couple of years working with Russian, Icelandic, Canadian and American air space authorities in establishing an efficient Polar route. While the creation of the new route was important, more important was the idea of flexible air space. Communications to the aircraft provided updated live weather information that was used to constantly bring about optimum flight routes and altitude. Among the numerous other efficiencies employed were a continuous descent path and a single-engine taxi.
By Emirates’ calculations, it saved approximately 2,000 gallons of fuel and 30,000 pounds of carbon emissions on the 16-hour direct flight. Although not everything done on the initial flight can be done on every flight, the airline is committed to using it as a benchmark. The airline undertook the project to show what can be done, and to motivate governments to work with industry; it also saved money. Emirates deserves credit for showing us what we all can do, once we decide to do it.