Surfing the Wind Could Cut Long-Distance Flights’ Environmental Costs

Researchers claim that the aircraft’s flying intercontinental routes are failing to drive the wind to their full potential, spending more money than necessary and emitting more greenhouse gases. Better use of satellite data can reduce the environmental costs of air travel. The fact that a good tailwind can bring a plane very soon is not news for true travelers. Pilots and airlines are more aware that they can save a lot of fuel if they let the natural forces do a lot for them.

A flight from Storm Sierra set a new, New York London record last year. However, when Kathy Wells, a PhD student, is studying to operate flights between Europe and North America, they left with a great opportunity to reduce the environmental impact on the table. Flights from Europe to North America are already flying to the north of the most direct route to avoid the maximum impact of the eastbound jetstream, but Wales has found that they can do better.

Wells said in a statement, “While air is somewhat taken into account when planning routes, considerations such as reducing the total cost of operating flights are currently given higher priority than reducing fuel burn and pollution.” “The current transatlantic flight path means the plane is burning more fuel and emitting more carbon dioxide than it needs.”

Wells and supervising professor Paul Williams in Environmental Research Papers studied 35,000 flights between New York and London in the winter of 2019-20. The authors compare the shortest routes to the wind around them, using the jetstream flying east, or avoiding it on the American-bound leg of the journey, with what the planes actually did. The authors conclude that some aircraft burned 16 percent more fuel than, they did needed, which translates into an equal increase in environmental damage. Even the average figure was more than 2 percent. The results may not translate perfectly to other routes, especially to the north south, but are less likely to be unique. Air travel contributes about 2.4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but is growing rapidly and may prove more difficult to deal with than other major emission sources.

Williams said, “Upgrading to more efficient aircraft or switching to biofuels or batteries can significantly reduce emissions but will be costly and may take decades to achieve.” “Simple tweets on the way to the flight can be very cheap and give instant benefits.”

The lack of radar coverage in the middle of the Atlantic has forced planes to fly elsewhere. Combined with how crowded the route is, the planes have reduced their chances of choosing the ideal air condition. Wells and Williams, however, note that this is no longer necessary, as a new generation of low-Earth orbital satellites is now placing aircraft over land as well as at sea. The benefits that Wells and Williams are promoting are different from avoiding the situation of contrail-formation, a practice that slightly increases fuel costs while drastically cutting the overall environmental cost of the flight.