We're not just focusing on aircraft emissions
Most environmental concerns around air travel focus on the role of aircraft but associated infrastructure, which include airports and flight paths, also have an impact on the environment and improvements can be made to be more environmentally sound.
The air transport industry is committed to removing airspace restrictions and in 2007 nearly 400 routes have been shortened. In total, the industry saved 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2007 and 6 million tonnes of CO2 in 2006 by working with governments and regulators to shorten air traffic routes. For example, each Europe-to-China round trip flight was shortened by 15 minutes - which saves 84,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.
In addition, ANSPs are working with airlines and airports on development of continuous descent approach landing patterns, which help reduce emissions during an aircraft’s approach to the airport. Traditionally, aircraft ‘step’ down to several altitude levels before landing. New technology allows flights to descend in a much smoother way, meaning less fuel use.
Airports and ground facilities
When viewed as part of the efforts being made to reduce emissions across the entire industry, incorporating environmentally-sound features into airports, factories and other facilities is increasingly important. Ground facilities are essential to the industry and have a responsibility to become more energy efficient.
Airports are investing in offsetting schemes to become carbon neutral, building ‘green-certified’ terminals, reducing on-airport vehicle emissions by introducing automatic metro lines, or switching to vehicles with alternative fuels and low-emission technology, and providing electricity to aircraft at terminal gates using fixed electrical ground power rather than the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit.
There is a significant impact on emissions from congestion at airports. When flights have to hold and circle before they land, or queue on taxiways before taking off, it is not only inconvenient to passengers, but also adds to fuel use. These inefficiencies are continually looked at to determine whether measures such as operating restrictions on flights or new facilities like runways are needed.
Electric ground vehicles at Dallas and solar power at Auckland help make these airports more environmentally sound. Airports around the world are investing in similar measures.
Air traffic management
Another vital infrastructure is the air traffic management system. The route a plane takes, the height it flies, and the weather it flies through, all affect the amount of fuel it burns and therefore the CO2 it emits. These factors are managed by air navigation service providers (ANSPs), the companies that provide air traffic control services.
In Europe, the unification and simplification of national air traffic management into a Single European Sky would reduce circuitous flight paths. The Single European Sky is a step towards developing systems that manage air traffic on the basis of ‘functional airspace blocks’ rather than national boundaries and, according to the European Commission, this better use of airspace will save upwards of 16 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.
Around the world, ANSPs are helping the industry improve its environmental performance by making better use of airspace design and optimising aircraft performance across all phases of flight. ANSPs work with regulators, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airports, pilots and engineers to optimise ground and flight operations to improve overall aircraft performance.
Reducing circuitous flight paths is key to reducing aircraft emissions across European airspace. ANSPs are making great headway in making air traffic more efficient through sophisticated routing.
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