Travelling via airplane is safe for you as an individual, but collectively all of using planes is unsafe. At ground level the emissions from airplanes are bad and are even more damaging when released high in the atmosphere (where you know, planes fly). If we’re going to survive the climate crisis then we’ll need to all reduce our use of modern airplanes.
Let’s use airships instead. More commonly known as blimps, these large airborne vessels can transport cargo more efficiently than boats or planes, they are just lacking the airport infrastructure. Lockheed Martin has recently found a way to make them more efficient and is proposing airships as a new way for luxury travel.
A paper in the journal Energy Conservation and Management published in September posits that just one airship could move 21,000 tons of stuff using almost no energy at all if we used airships to harness the free winds of the jet stream, the narrow band of fast-moving air above the troposphere, where planes fly. These winds, which average 100 miles per hour and can be as speedy as 250 mph, could propel an airship from Denver to China in about seven days or from Los Angeles to Tokyo in four, says Julian David Hunt, of Austria’s International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis and the paper’s first author.
These lower-flying vehicles, known as hybrids, are likely what we’ll see in the nearer future. Aerospace company Lockheed Martin’s hybrid prototype sports three cartoonish bubbles up front to help with navigation and engines to assist with maneuverability. The company’s hybrid design uses 20% aerodynamic lift — a lightly fuel-powered boost for a bit of a “plane-like effect” — and helium for the remaining 80% buoyant lift, Boyd says. The end result uses significantly less fuel than a plane and can access many areas other vehicles can’t.
A seemingly simple change to airplane design can make a huge difference in fuel efficiency: add another engine. Yes, as counterintuitive as it sounds, NASA has figured out that by adding an engine to the rear of the plane the airflow of the plane itself can provide more thrust. Airplanes are notoriously bad for the environment and any efficiency in fuel consumption has a significant impact on emissions.
NASA’s idea is pretty straightforward: place a large turbofan engine on the rear of a plane, where it will collect the slow-moving air traveling along the plane’s body. This lets the wing-mounted turbofans be built smaller, which means less drag and a higher fuel efficiency.
That by itself would mean a minor improvement to fuel use, but NASA decided to go a step further. The engineers also added generators to the wing-mounted turbofans, and the electricity generated by these engines is used to power the tail-mounted one. This means that the rear turbofan that provides much of the plane’s thrust doesn’t require any fuel to operate.
Many people have a fear of flying, yet, those same people have no fear about getting into something that is far more likely to kill them: their car. The CBC has an article that points out how safe flying is despite people’s exaggerated fears.
There have been countless in-flight incidents that that could’ve ended disastrously, but were resolved without loss of life. Here’s a look at a few of them.
Jan. 15, 2009: A U.S. Airways Airbus A320 loses power to both engines shortly after taking off from New York’s La Guardia airport when it strikes a flock of geese. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger is able to guide the crippled aircraft to a safe landing on the Hudson River, where rescue boats and ferries plucked the 155 passengers and crew from lifeboats and the plane’s wings before it sank in the frigid waters. There were no serious injuries.
August 24, 2001: An Air Transat A330-200 glides to an emergency landing in the Azores after a fuel leak shut down both engines. The plane, which was on a flight from Toronto to Lisbon, glided for about 20 minutes after running out of fuel. The plane made a hard landing, damaging the landing gear, but came to a stop on the runway. None of the 291 passengers or 13 crew members were killed, although several suffered serious injuries, including fractures and shock. A Portuguese investigation cited faulty maintenance and noted the pilots failed to detect the fuel leak.
An airbus carrying 155 people crashed into the Hudson river in New York City yesterday and everyone survived. Wow! This is the first I’ve heard of a plane this big ditching in water and people live. Absolutely stunning!
According to air traffic controllers, an “eerie calm” defined their communications with the cockpit as their options dwindled and the pilot decided to ditch into the Hudson, a union official told Reuters news agency.
Incredibly, Capt Sullenberger managed to land the aircraft safely on the water.
Mayor Bloomberg said that the pilot told him that the captain then “walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else onboard”.
A recent test flight of a unmodified airliner that used an algae-based biofuel was a great success! This is good news for air travelers as it will mean that their carbon footprint will be greatly reduced when airliners switch to the more efficient biofuel.
The test by Houston-based Continental, the fourth-largest U.S. airline, is a step toward the International Air Transport Association’s goal of having member carriers use 10 percent alternative fuels by 2017 to reduce global warming. The European Union will cap airline carbon-dioxide emissions beginning in 2012.
“We’re watching as different countries set carbon-reduction targets,” Leah Raney, Continental’s managing director of global environmental affairs, said in an interview. “We have been working very diligently to reduce our carbon footprint over the last 10 years.”
Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, IATA estimates. More-fuel-efficient planes have helped Continental trim its output of heat-trapping gases 35 percent, Raney said.
Fuel of Future
U.S. carriers are testing alternative fuels after prices for traditional jet kerosene, which is derived from crude oil, surged to a record $4.36 a gallon in July. Jet-fuel prices have since collapsed about 60 percent amid a deepening recession.
“This demonstration flight represents another step in Continental’s ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility,” Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner said in a statement. “The technical knowledge we gain today will contribute to a wider understanding of the future for transportation fuels.”