As many Americans get ready to fly to their aunt’s house in Milwaukee or grandmother’s house in Syracuse for Thursday’s traditional Thanksgiving meal, many critics are chiming in again about the polluting and wasteful nature of the air travel industry.
In fact, air travel has come under sever criticism this year not only for how much fossil fuels are used and how many carbon emissions are produced, but also for many companies’ attempts at greenwashing the industry.
However, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month, United Airlines recently flew a flight from Sydney to San Francisco saving 1,664 gallons of fuel and 32,656 pounds of carbon emissions by using new technologies and more accommodating air traffic control procedures.
In February, Virgin Atlantic flew what was touted as a groundbreaking flight from London to Amsterdam using a conventional Boeing 747 aircraft run on biofuels. The biofuel was a mixture of coconut and babassu oils, a native tree to Brazil.
Sir Richard Branson said, “This pioneering flight will enable those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future, fuels which will power our aircraft in the years ahead through sustainable next-generation oils, such as algae.”
Greenpeace called the demonstration a “high altitude greenwash,” however, inciting the indirect effects of using biofuels such as these such as food crop displacement and the high costs that go into their production.
Regardless, United’s demonstration this month seemed to be of a different character. There were no tanned CEOs with rebellious silvery-blond hair sipping coconut juice in front of the airliner. It was just the flight crew utilizing simple, state-of-the-art techniques to be more efficient with the flight patterns and air traffic control.
According to the Chronicle, the plane’s captain altered the flight path mid-flight – supposedly not possible with today’s technology – to take advantage of update weather conditions. Then the captain requested a special landing procedure developed by United and Boeing that generated additional fuel savings with a smooth, continuous descent rather than the traditional step-down approach.
The article claimed that the flight helps make a case for Congress to appropriate billions of dollars to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. Unfortunately, amidst the continuing economic crisis, this initiative is hardly blipping the radar for many policymakers.
Said Peter McDonald, United’s Executive Vice President and CAO: “It is billions of dollars, but the benefits, from an environmental standpoint and fuel reduction and customer convenience, far outweigh the initial cost.”
To find out more, check out the ASPIRE website, an international cooperative between the FAA and it’s New Zealand and Australian equivalents to lessen the environmental impact of air travel. ASPIRE was one of the groups responsible for United’s recent cross-Atlantic flight.