Cutting Carbon Emissions – How Airlines Can Save Fuel AND Help the Planet

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With the impacts of global climate change being felt around the world, getting the international aviation community aligned and working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally is more important than ever. But how can an industry that operates fleets of fossil fuel-burning aircraft ever reduce its carbon emissions?

One of the most effective and easiest-to-implement solutions is to put processes and systems in place that help reduce the amount of fuel that aircraft consume. Every gallon of fuel consumed can produce roughly 21 pounds of CO2. Considering a Boeing 747 may burn up to five gallons of fuel per mile, each mile it travels produces approximately 105 pounds of CO2. Or, more simply put, it means that a flight from New York City to Los Angeles could release approximately 128 tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

To make more effective route decisions, different kinds and sources of data need to be evaluated, like existing flight plan information, weather, airspace data, air traffic data, and even aircraft-specific information, including performance and actual weight.

While the industry works to introduce new lower-carbon fuel alternatives and more efficient engines, it’s important today for airlines to minimize the number of unnecessary miles they’re flying and thus, the amount of fuel they’re burning.

Luckily, there are three ways that can be accomplished using technologies that are already available to commercial airlines:

  • Embrace advanced flight planning systems that consider weather, traffic, and other parameters for optimal pre-flight routing.
  • Utilize the Cost Index available via Flight Management Systems (FMS) to optimize aircraft speed based on fuel consumption.
  • Implement fuel conservation programs, such as single-engine taxi, to further cut fuel expenditures and increase sustainability.

Of these options, flight planning solutions may have the potential to deliver some of the largest returns on investment. Thanks to new technologies like the Flight Profile Optimization (FPO) solution that is integrated into the Collins Aerospace FlightHub Electronic Flight Bag solution, it’s possible for airlines to enable real-time route recommendations that reduce CO2 by saving fuel.

Applications like FPO enable pilots and operations professionals to optimize flight paths based on the current weather, airspace constraints, and surrounding traffic. By looking for and using the data available, modern applications can become great advisory tools for pilots and dispatchers in our industry’s goal toward sustainability.

So with these solutions available and sustainability such a priority for the industry what are some of the challenges facing the adoption of flight path optimization today?

Flight crew and dispatcher collaboration is fundamental to the aviation industry and providing identical data makes joint decisions and discussions simpler and more successful.

One of the biggest issues airlines face when looking at these solutions is legacy technology. Airlines leverage FMS to optimize fuel usage based on the Cost Index.  These older systems often lack the ability to use real-time data, which can lead to suboptimal results.

But legacy technology is just one issue. The other is improving communication to align priorities.

Aligning Objectives is Key
So, how do we overcome these challenges and increase the adoption of these technologies? The alignment of objectives is essential if airlines are going to make significant improvements in their efficiency and sustainability.

To align objectives between flight crews and dispatchers, airlines will need to provide both groups with the same tools, derived from the same data sources. This would allow both groups to communicate using the same data and information.

In this scenario, dispatchers would be able to see why flight crews are requesting an updated flight path and trajectory. The flight crews would be able to hear from and communicate with the dispatchers and understand why they might have another point of view.  Using the same solution and capabilities helps both groups get on the same page, enabling them to make more informed decisions that are mutually beneficial—and more sustainable.

New solutions deliver a single source of truth
But, even when objectives are aligned, there’s still a technology problem to address.
To make more effective route decisions, different kinds and sources of data need to be evaluated, like existing flight plan information, weather, airspace data, air traffic data, and even aircraft-specific information, including performance and actual weight. This data then must go through a number of computations and analyses before it travels through secure data pipes to the flight crews and dispatchers. New solutions, like Collins Aerospace FPO, can dramatically improve this process.

Considering a Boeing 747 may burn up to five gallons of fuel per mile, each mile it travels produces approximately 105 pounds of CO2. Or, more simply put, it means that a flight from New York City to Los Angeles could release approximately 128 tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Flight crew and dispatcher collaboration is fundamental to the aviation industry and providing identical data makes joint decisions and discussions simpler and more successful. Gathering all the requisite data from multiple sources and providing the results to the flight deck and operations center keep the whole airline in mind when changes are suggested.

Leveraging data to make more informed decisions about flight routes and aircraft speeds is an important step that airlines can take today to increase efficiency and make their operations more sustainable. By aligning stakeholder objectives, allowing all parties to operate from a single source of truth, and embracing advanced technologies like the cloud and data analysis, airlines can take one of the single largest steps toward fighting carbon emissions.

For additional information on FPO and how it can help reduce carbon emissions, click HERE.

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