Airline industry more renewable than US auto?

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.

Pretty slick.

— posted by Tom Witkin

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Thomas Witkin A few years ago, my background and passion about renewable and sustainable energy bubbled to the surface. Today, I work for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to broaden the reach of our clean energy message, in large part by building web-based collaboration for our internal teams and connected communities for all our constituents. Prior to joining DOER, I completed an intriguing ride as VP of Marketing at SiteScape, Inc. (web-based collaboration) that culminated in our acquisition by Novell, Inc.). I received an MBA from the Stanford Biz School and a AB in Technology and Public Policy from Harvard.

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2 comments on “Airline industry more renewable than US auto?
  1. Rob L says:

    All well and good.. but still annoying knowing that in the 70′s a new style of jet engine was researched, and built, that was anywhere from 15-30% (and working it’s way up to 50%) more fuel efficient than the jet engines still in use today, but once fuel costs went back down, research was scrapped. (Photo here: http://robluhrs.smugmug.com/gallery/6045757_cEwmJ#378747076_dmzbg , Overly in depth article here: http://gltrs.grc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/GLTRS/browse.pl?1988/TM-101361.html ) But it really does show how short sighted the industry really is.

    • Tom Witkin says:

      There were and are still lots of technical issues related to propfans / geared turbofans / open rotor designs that were not a function of fuel costs (which have always been a concern to carriers, regardless of the spot price of Jet-A). Good article also in the Nov 24 Aviation Week about issues facing the industry on this score. But, you’re right: plenty of shortsightedness to go around.

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