Airbus proposing Measures to Reduce the Aviation Carbon Footprint that may make Flying more Dangerous

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2012

Week in Review

Airplanes are very complex machines.  They fly at speeds 3-4 times the speeds they land and take off at.  Which requires leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps to curve the wing more at low speed to increase lift.  While flattening it out more at high speeds to reduce drag.  When landing pilots put the engines into reverse thrust to help slow the plane down.  So they even use fuel to slow down.

And speaking of fuel it’s expensive.  Airlines carry as little of it as possible in their airplanes to reduce weight which reduces costs.  Sometimes bad weather forces planes to go to an alternate airport.  Sometimes there are strong headwinds.  Sometimes they fly into Heathrow and have to circle for a half hour or so to land.  Because they only have two runways.  Compounding this problem planes are getting lighter and engines are getting more efficient.  Allowing airlines to carry even less fuel.  So it is not uncommon for a pilot to declare a fuel emergency because of unexpected additional flying time.

When flying in the air highways air traffic controllers keep airplanes separated by large distances.  To keep them from running into each other.  The more distance the better so they can take evasive actions to avoid bad weather cells.  Or allow a plane some leeway in case they have a system malfunction (like plugged pitot tubes feeding false air speed and altimeter readings into the autopilot) that takes the plane off course.  Or in case a plane flies into some clear air turbulence (CAT) and it drops out of the sky 1,000 feet or so.  Or rises 1,000 feet or so.  Two things that allow a plane to recover from unplanned events like these are empty skies around you and altitude.

Aviation has come a long way.  And Boeing and Airbus are making some incredible airplanes.  So they know a thing or two about flying an airplane.  And it shows in their planes.  Which makes it hard to take them seriously when they talk about ways to reduce their carbon footprint by making flying more risky (see Airbus To Present Measures To Reduce Industry’s Environmental Footprint by Jens Flottau posted 9/6/2012 on Aviation Week).

Airbus on Sept. 6 will unveil five measures it says will make the aviation industry environmentally sustainable by 2050 despite projected growth for global air transport…

Airbus also foresees a new method for takeoff, with renewably powered propelled acceleration allowing aircraft to climb steeper and reach cruise altitude faster. This in turn would allow airports to build shorter runways and minimize land use.

Once in cruise, aircraft should be able to self-organize and select the most efficient routes, says Airbus. On dense routes, aircraft could fly in formation, like birds, to take advantage of drag reduction opportunities.

In Airbus’ vision, aircraft will descend without using engine power or air brakes and would be able to decelerate quicker and to a lower final approach speed enabling them to use shorter runways…

Fuel is a key component of Airbus’ proposal, and the manufacturer says the use of biofuels hydrogen, electricity and solar energy will be required to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.

You simply can’t build shorter runways.  Because planes aren’t perfect.  Sometimes things happen.  If we had shorter runways what would happen to a plane landing with damaged leading edge slats or trailing edge flaps?  And they have to land at a higher speed than normal because they can’t curve the wing to create more lift at lower speeds?  And what if a plane’s thrust reversers failed to deploy?  This is why we have long runways.  To give planes with problems a better chance to land safely.

Flying commercial jets in formation?  Not a good idea.  One of the most dangerous things to do in the Air Force is aerial refueling.  Where two large planes get real close to each other.  If they bump into each other they could cause some damage.  Even cause them to crash.  Flying in formation would be exhausting for a pilot.  Or they could entrust their formation flying to an autopilot.  But if they hit some CAT and get thrown around in that airspace they could get thrown into each other.  Even while flying on autopilot.  Planes also make their own turbulence.  Which is why there are larger distances between the big planes (i.e., the heavies) and the small ones.  So the small ones don’t get flipped over by some spiraling wingtip vortex turbulence off the heavy in front of it.

Solar energy?  Really?  How?  It’s not going to propel a jumbo jet.  And if they think they’re going to save on engine emissions by using solar panels on the wings to produce electricity for the cabin lights and electronics I don’t think that will work.  The emissions from the electrical load on those engines may be negligible compared to emissions they make producing thrust for flight.  And if they add more weight (solar panels) that will only take more fuel for flight.  Which will release more emissions.  Finally, a lot of planes fly at night.  When there is no sunshine.  What then?

Trying to reduce a plane’s carbon footprint will only make flying more dangerous.  It’s one thing to throw money away building solar panels and windmills on the ground.  For that’s just ripping the people off.  But applying this nonsense to aviation may end up killing people.  It’s hard to believe that Airbus is serious with these suggestions.  One wonders if they’re just proposing this to get those proposing that carbon trading scheme to back off as it will increase the cost of flying.  Which will reduce the number of people flying.  And reduce the number of planes Airbus can sell.  Perhaps by dangling this green future of aviation they may buy some time before the carbon trading scheme kills the aviation industry.

Fighting nonsense with nonsense.  It’s just as good an explanation as any.


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