beautiful view of cloudy day

beautiful view of cloudy day

A one-way flight from London, England, to New York City emits approximately a tonne of CO2. That’s a lot of this greenhouse gas, which is causing global warming. Few people in some nations do enough in a year to release that much CO2. However, there are techniques to reduce the environmental effect of flying. One novel idea is to instruct planes to surf high-altitude winds whenever possible. 

It’s not something they’ve been permitted to do. But that might change shortly. 

Surfing the Breeze

Most planes crossing the Atlantic Ocean choose one of several widely separated fixed routes. The explanation was that radar could not monitor airplanes everywhere above the Atlantic. However, a new network of low-Earth orbit satellites may soon change that. People will be able to follow these flights throughout their journey. 

“Instead of needing to have these set tracks that keep the planes apart,” explains Cathie Wells, “airlines can surf much more flexible routes.” She is a math Ph.D. student who leads the analysis. 

Wells was a member of an English team that estimated the shortest possible routes for passenger flights. They utilized computer algorithms, which are collections of step-by-step instructions that aid in solving mathematical problems. The travel time of an aircraft is affected by the winds it encounters. The strong jet stream, for example, may provide a significant lift to eastward aircraft. That is a robust air circulation moving from west to east over the Atlantic. That advantage is lost on westbound roads. They could, however, escape adverse headwinds, which would otherwise extend the journey. Faster planes use less fuel by surfing. Furthermore, less burning produces fewer greenhouse emissions. 

In The Study

For their new study, the researchers examined 35,000 eastbound and westbound flights between New York’s Kennedy airport and London’s Heathrow airport. In the winter, jet streams may reach more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) per hour. This implies that ideal flight timings will vary significantly at this time of year. As a result, the new study examined all flights over three months beginning December 1, 2019. 

The researchers demonstrated that routes that made the best wind assistance would have taken less time than the actual flights. One eastbound trip, in particular, might have saved one-sixth of the gasoline that is used. All by surfing the winds.

The aviation sector is well aware of its extensive “carbon footprint.” That is a measure of the number of greenhouse gases it emits. There are techniques to reduce that footprint, but most are expensive and time-consuming. Jet makers, for example, might modify their planes. Alternatively, airplanes may use fuel derived from renewable sources, such as plants. Some scientists are even developing and testing hybrid-electric and hydrogen-powered planes. 

Changing a flight direction, on the other hand, can immediately save money and energy. “Reducing [fuel] usage is a win-win situation,” adds Irene Dedoussi. It enables the aviation sector to “save fuel while decreasing pollutants.” Dedoussi is a researcher at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Savings of one or two percent are typically seen as significant, according to this aerospace expert. It’s fantastic, she adds, to utilize something so easy to decrease fuel use by a sixth.