The Green Skies Above

by Dennis Machicao

When you think about airlines or air travel you don’t necessarily associate it with green travel. But there have been some encouraging strides made by the airline industry to go green, well, somewhat.

When you travel domestically, in economy class like most of us, you might complain that the airlines no longer serve a meal. If you want to eat, you have to pay. But just think of all the waste this eliminates by not serving food that a passenger might or might not really want, including all those plastic forks, knives and spoons, the cellophane wrappers, the paper coverings for the trays, the plastic cups. Multiply that by the thousands of flights a day and by thousands of passengers and you get thousands of pounds of waste. Granted, when the airline executives decided to charge for food they were probably not thinking of being green, but rather realized this would be another revenue source. The outcome, planned or unplanned, is a positive one for the environment.

As far as aircrafts are concerned, the present day and the future look very promising for a greener means of transportation.  Let’s face it, getting on an airplane to go short, medium or long distances around the world is a convenience we take for granted. It’s not a special occasion like it use to be in the early days of commercial flights, it’s just one of the things we do when we want to travel.

Airbus, an aircraft manufacturer, was initially formed in 1967 as a consortium of small aerospace manufacturers in France, Germany, United Kingdom and, in 1971, Spain to compete with the much larger American manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed and McDonald Douglas. These smaller manufacturers realized they could not build planes at the rate that their American counterparts could so they decided to unite their technologies and production outputs to compete.

Today, Airbus has produced the darling of the airline industry: the 21st century flagship A380 aircraft.  This behemoth aircraft can accommodate a maximum of 555 passengers in twin aisle double decker cabins with the upper cabin running the length of the fuselage. Aside from the comfort it provides to its passengers with wider aisles, seats and more legroom in all classes of service, it embodies modern technology that makes it fly greener, cleaner and quieter than most aircraft. It sets a new benchmark for the global aviation industry with its superior efficiency, profitability and operational effectiveness.

The aircraft engines have a lower noise levels and lower fuel consumption with reduced emissions of CO2 and NOx (nitrogen and oxygen gases produced in the air during combustion at high temperatures). Its advanced wing and landing gear design makes the aircraft significantly quieter than most of today’s largest airplanes, thus meeting strict local regulations at airports around the world. With this new wing design and the use of composite materials, the aircraft is more efficient, producing a lower level of CO2 and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

Airbus has certainly stepped up to the plate in making air travel a bit more environmentally friendly and forcing American manufacturers to play catch-up in producing greener aircraft.

According to, the most eco-friendly airlines are:

  • Continental Airlines – replaced most of its fleet with more energy-efficient planes. Installed winglets to save fuel and reduce emissions by 5% and reduced ground equipment emissions by more than 75%. In 2008 Continental received an award by the EPA for being the first carrier to use an environmentally friendly pretreatment on is aircraft.
  • EasyJet – this low cost European carrier installed new energy-efficient engines to its fleet to reduce NOx emissions by 25% and reduce fuel consumption by 1%.
  • Lufthansa – within 12 years plans to have 10% of its fuel derived from alternative sustainable sources of plants or algae in combination with conventional aircraft fuel.
  • Virgin Atlantic – completed the world’s first biofuel-powered flight, a combination of 20% mix of coconut and babasu oil with 80% conventional jet fuel.

Other airlines testing biofuels are:

With the progress the airline industry has made and will be making for the future, you can be assured that air travel is becoming more environmentally friendly and the skies will soon have a lighter shade of green.

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