Airline industry more renewable than US auto?December 8, 2008
I’m still not sure where I sit vis-à-vis the bailout of the three US auto makers. Years of bad decision-making in light of myriad technology options (like right-sized vehicles, lighter materials, smarter transmissions, diesel, hybrid, electric; the list goes on) paints a dismal picture. Unlike a Prius or Jetta, a hybrid electric or turbodiesel 747 isn’t a possibility.
It may come as a surprise that the airline industry – from airlines to aircraft and system manufacturers to NASA and the FAA – has been working on innovations to manage both energy costs and sustainability. Yes, there is government involvement and research. And no, these efforts won’t give us more leg room. But they may help assure the public of viable air transportation for the long-term that does its part to limit environmental impact.
There were two relevant pieces in Aviation Week magazine’s November 24 issue that put auto’s lack of leadership and creativity in an even starker light. On December 8, “An Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 is scheduled to take off from Auckland . . . on the first flight to use a sustainably produced replacement for petroleum-based jet fuel . . . a 50:50 blend of conventional Jet A-1 and a biofuel derived from jatropha . . .” Jatropha and other biofuel feedstocks that meet sustainability criteria are of huge interest to aviation simply to assure fuel availability. Sure it’s self-interest, but it’s enlightened.
The second story pointed up straightforward approaches to conservation, something rightfully getting more and more interest among clean energy investors: “A United Airlines Boeing 777 Saved 1,564 gal. of fuel and cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 32,656 lb. on a single flight . . . from Sydney to San Francisco on Nov. 14 . . . [using] a tailored approach to [SFO] with a continuous descent at near idle power from cruise altitude to final approach.” This was part of the Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (Aspire) program that includes United, Boeing, the FAA, Airservices Australia and Airways New Zealand. The flight used 11 fuel-saving techniques.
— posted by Tom Witkin