The fuel efficiency of airplanes was once measured by how much jet fuel they burned on a given flight. Nowadays, airplanes deliver a fuel efficiency measurement in the other direction: It’s whether they use the plane to deliver as much fuel as possible. That not only makes airplanes more efficient overall, but it also improves air travel’s impact on the environment: While a large airplane may burn only a small amount of fuel, because the plane is such a massive part of the emissions production, a given percentage of emissions are eliminated. The ultimate goal is for every airplane to deliver all the fuel it takes to carry its passengers to and from wherever.
Some countries and cities have an unusual goal for how much fuel airlines should use per passenger: Every airline should deliver 1 metric ton of greenhouse gases per passenger per hour of flight, one so-called metric ton per passenger per hour. In the past few years, this “black” standard has cropped up in all sorts of other places, from regional and local governments to airplanes themselves. For example, in 2014, Norwegian Air ran its new A350 Dreamliner aircraft on an experimental five-hour flight between Helsinki and London Heathrow. Each hour of flying with the plane resulted in roughly 2 metric tons of CO2 emissions — about the same as the fuel burned by three hot dogs.
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Following this new standard, Norwegian Air might have run into a snag in its $61 billion quest to make the company one of the biggest and best in the airline industry. The carbon-zero standard may deter passengers from flying Norwegian, or any company that might want to fly in compliance with it, because what matters more than environmental compliance is clear business viability.
But Norwegian Air claims its emissions are zero because of technology that reduces the amount of fuel the plane burns during landing and takeoff. This is why, for example, the Norwegian Air A350 contains a feature that keeps the aircraft flying on a constant elliptical shape — reducing the friction that would otherwise lead to a rapid stall. This flap, called t-weight, is a thrust-generating piece that helps retain a higher airspeed during landing and takeoff, allowing the plane to maintain a lower maximum fuel consumption than if the plane were flying a regular rate. Norway Air says t-weight is a part of a total flight management system to minimize the amount of fuel burned during takeoffs. According to the airline, t-weight can cut fuel consumption by more than half, or about a ton per flight hour. The other byproduct of t-weight technology, called on-board engines and propellers for short range flights, are also used to cut fuel consumption.
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Norwegian Air is exploring aviation-wide metric ton per passenger per hour. The airline is working with engineers from Germany’s Fraport, Europe’s biggest airport operator, on figuring out how to build an airplane in compliance with this standard. Since the plane would have to carry more passengers, Fraport is focusing on one of the massive plane-makers that have been designed to fly with lower fuel costs. The company is working with Airbus and Boeing to try to figure out a way to make aircraft technologies that reduce emissions more efficient without making the plane take longer to get from point A to point B. While a plane may cut emissions during its specific flight, the emissions drop overall when all of the flights in a particular pattern are included, for example by shuttling passengers from A to B to C, a three-city trip.
Source: Yediot Ahronot, International Business Times
This essay was originally published on Quartz. Read the original article.