What the Airlines are Doing to Make “Green Flying” and Sustainable Air Travel a Reality

The realities of climate change means every industry is taking stock of their sustainable practices. The airlines historically have been one of the biggest offenders in terms of carbon emissions, because it’s hard to get around the fact that you have to burn a lot of fuel just to keep airplanes in the air. That’s not to say that the airlines aren’t exploring sustainable practices. Here are a few ideas currently under review.

Green Flying with Clean Fuel

If the airlines can switch to clean fuels known as SAFS (sustainable aviation fuels), this is the best solution for the environment right now. The problem is making the SAFs work with existing, petroleum-dependent jet engines out in the world. This kind of SAF is called “drop in,” because it can be utilized with existing engines and airplanes already in the skies. There are a plethora of fuels being tested in this category, all of which have their pros and cons.

Green Flying with Garbage Fuel?

One of the most hyped kinds of clean fuel is biofuel, which is often made from waste products that would otherwise have minimal or no practical use. And in that category, one company, Fulcrum BioEnergy, is working on producing a fuel made primarily from municipal solid waste. Yep – you read right – municipal solid waste is garbage.

But wait! Before you turn up your nose at the very idea, consider this. Using municipal solid waste as a component (called feedstock) for jet fuel generates significant greenhouse gas emission savings. Landfills produce methane, which has over 28 times the climate change impact of CO2 over 100 years. All of the waste diverted from landfills eliminates that hazard to the environment completely. Fulcrum BioEnergy’s fuel is scheduled to go into production right about now. Later this year, the company plans to start suppling to United and all of it’s codeshare partners.

Electric Commercial Airplanes

There’s some positive movement towards using zero emission planes right now, but we’re still maybe a decade away from widespread commercial use. The issue right now is that the battery required to support a jumbo jet weighs far too much to make this a realistic option.

Boeing claims that we are at least several decades away from using electric planes for commercial flights, but other organizations with massive research budgets think we are much closer. NASA is presently partnering with private companies to help fasttrack the battery technology necessary, and believe that 2035 is a reasonable target date to see feasibility in technology as well as widespread airline adoption.

Hydrogen Fuel for Commercial Flights

Some aviation titans like Airbus are experimenting right now with Hydrogen-based fuels. A hydrogen airplane engine would produce water vapor as emissions, which is perhaps the gold standard. While it’s fantastic that the aviation industry has this in research & development, we are many years away from a world in which hydrogen-powered planes rule the skies.

How Can You Help?

It’s hard to make responsible, green decisions with limited options. But we’re doing our part at CheapAir.com. When you’re searching for your next flight with us, look for the “Green Choice” sticker for your particular itinerary. We’ve identified the flights for you that are the most efficient, burning the least amount of fuel. We’ll even tell you how much CO2 the flight will burn and how well it stacks up against all other flights for your itinerary. If you or your employer likes to track your CO2 usage, you can see an estimate for the flight. This cool, new tool is in Beta testing right now but available for our customers.

In addition, you can stay abreast of what the individual airlines are doing to make a positive impact, and choose your flights accordingly.

With global warming urgency at an all time high all over the world, we’re optimistic. Travelers can expect to see some huge innovations in the near future rolled out to make flying much more fuel efficient. Let us know what you think about our “Green Choice” sticker and your thoughts on sustainable airline practices in general. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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