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When the Red-Eye Becomes the Green-Eye

Last week, UK-based low-cost airline easyJet announced it had designed an aircraft that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent. They call it the “ecoJet” and claim the design could become reality by 2015.

Last week, UK-based low-cost airline easyJet announced it had designed an aircraft that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent. They call it the “ecoJet” and claim the design could become reality by 2015.

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Sounds great, right? Then easyJet starts to break down the math behind the emissions reductions. Ten percent comes from upcoming changes to air traffic patterns in the European Union. That’s not really something easyJet can claim credit for. The greatest reduction, 25 percent, comes from the jet’s “open rotor” engines, which has a larger fan blade diameter than current models. Apparently this technology has been around since the 1980s OPEC oil crisis, making one wonder why it hasn’t been put to use before this. The final 15 percent comes from the plane’s lightweight material.

Naturally, environmentalists are skeptical at best. There is some debate over whether 2015 is a realistic goal, or whether airplane manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus will even build such a plane. Moreover, growth in the airline industry is likely to offset any gains from more efficient planes. Besides an increase in the number of planes in the air, it’s not as if the industry is just going to get rid of all its fuel-guzzling jets as soon as a greener solution comes along. Most planes are used for decades before being scrapped, although chief executive Andy Harrison claims easyJet’s aircraft have an average lifespan of 2.3 years.

The next question becomes how much damage airlines are actually doing compared to say, the automobile industry. Harrison claims plane emissions make up just 1.6 percent of all CO2 emissions worldwide, while the European Commission puts it at 4 percent. The figure apparently goes as high as 9 percent, depending on who you ask.

In related news, industry giants Boeing and Airbus are competing for the title of “most environmentally friendly” at the Paris Air Show this week, with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner pitted against Airbus’s A380 model. The jury is still out on which one is the most fuel efficient. Again, it may not matter–environmentalists say cutting back on air travel is the only way to truly make the industry greener.

Will the “ecoJet” really set the standard for greener air travel, or are is easyJet just jumping on the green bandwagon? Is there anything the airline industry can be doing to reduce CO2 emissions, besides flying less? Should airplanes really take so much of the blame for global warming?