Green planes need a systematic approach and NextGen authorization has a role in a net CO2 neutral goal

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The debate surrounding the aviation’s industry’s contribution to global warming is rancorous, to say the least. The below headline suggests that flying is responsible for 2.5% of the carbon emissions, but the text of the article speaks about the heavy challenge required to reduce the number. While the debate about what the aviation sector’s goal should be, there is one “solution”, which has great potential benefits, but which languishes awaiting Congressional approval.

The environmentalists, especially the Green Party in Europe, are convinced that aviation can do more. ICAO has committed the airlines to reduce their impact by 2% annually from 2010 to 2020 and as much as 50% by 2050. Official estimates assign 32% of the US’s carbon emissions to the Transportation sector with Electricity the number one source at 38%. Within the transportation sector, aviation is responsible for 12% of the CO2 while the 74% share from road transportation (source). The industry is already committed to and working towards improved performance; as A4A explains:

“Between 2000 and 2013, U.S. airlines continued to make important gains in fuel efficiency, carrying 17 percent more traffic using 8 percent less fuel – resulting in an 8 percent reduction in carbon emissions. However, during the same time, airline fuel costs grew twice as fast as revenue, with the cost of commercial jet-fuel increasing by 260 percent.”

Beyond the currently available improvements, the aerospace is heavily invested in finding and implemented new technologies which will reduce the CO2 footprint (the FAA’s Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative). Improved engine performance (Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise Program) and the development of biofuels hold great promise. The later alternative is one of EPA’s designated strategies for aviation.

One method of dramatically improving aviation environmental performance to reduce the time and fuel needed to get from A to B. Today, the ground based navigational system’s limitations and locations do not maximize the routing of aircraft. The FAA has proposed, and Congress has not completely sanctioned, NextGen. This satellite-based air traffic control technology will shorten the time it takes to get from A to B. One estimate found an annual reduction of carbon emissions of six million tons. This enhancement may contribute to net carbon neutrality by 2050 according to the FAA. NextGen will add to the controllers’ environmental toolboxes many better approaches, like:

· Optimized Profile Descents-Past practice, the airplanes powered their way to descending steps; now the new navigational capabilities will allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power, thus saving fuel. AIA estimated that this procedure at the US’s top 10 airports would save 3.75 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

· Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast over the Pacific Ocean. Because there is little radar coverage over the oceans, separation is achieved by longer miles in trail. Using ADS-B IN, pilots will know the location and speed of nearby equipped aircraft, and can safely climb to altitudes where they burn less fuel. And by carrying less fuel, the FAA estimates an airline operating between the United States and the South Pacific could earn $200,000 in additional payload revenue per aircraft each year.

· Performance Based Navigation permits more precise and efficient landing/departing flights. It is estimated that these procedures would reduce emissions at America’s Top 10 airports by 2,000,000 tons of CO2 per year.

· Other procedures are also available

It is important to take a systematic approach to reducing aviation’s CO2 footprint. Biofuels and engine technologies hold considerable progress and industry (with some funding from governments) is working hard to bring these aspirations to implementation. The benefits of NextGen for the environment cannot be fully realized unless and until industry and government endorse the funding of NextGen.

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