Top Three Changes you can make to Reduce your Carbon Footprint – Air Travel (Part III)

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

Climate change is an existential threat to humans, which is why it is our mission at BlueRoof Foundation to educate consumers on how to reduce their carbon footprint. It is important that everyone make changes in their lives to address this problem before we are forced to make more drastic changes.

In the first two parts of this series, we talked about Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Solar Panels. In this post, we will talk about the impact of air travel and how to mitigate its impact on the environment. This is the most difficult one to reduce of all the major carbon emitters. Humans are travelling more each year. Even though the global carbon emissions of air travel is only 2% of total emissions, it is soon expected to exceed 10% in the coming decades.

In this article we will discuss air travel related emissions in the US, some worthy carbon offset solutions to compensate for the emissions from your travel, and finally some promising technologies that could help air travel in the future.

It is important to acknowledge the emissions reduction efforts implemented by airlines and airplane manufacturers in the past decade. According to the International Air Travel Association (IATA) website, the fuel efficiency of airplanes improved more than 10% between 2009 and 2016, roughly equating to 1.5% improvement each year. This trend will continue for the next few years before it becomes increasingly challenging to improve efficiency through currently available technologies.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a government organization, US airlines schedule nearly 29,000 flights per day, consuming about 49 million gallons of jet fuel each day! This roughly equates to 52% of the total jet fuel consumed every day with the rest being consumed by private, military, and cargo planes. US airlines carry nearly 2.7 million paying passengers per day with an average fuel consumption of 1,700 gallons per flight. With an average paid passenger count of 91 people per flight, the fuel efficiency works out to 80 miles per gallon per passenger, which roughly equates to one metric ton of carbon emission for every 7,000 miles of air travel.

On the surface this seems like it’s not that bad, but it is important to keep in mind that some planes can carry up to 500 passengers and are capable of flying nearly 9,000 miles non-stop, which can result in carbon emissions of more than 500 tons per flight. It is obvious a plane can burn an immense amount of fuel very quickly, and thus they are a big source of carbon emissions. However, it is only fair to state that air travel is lower in carbon emissions than driving alone in a car for the same distance.

Now that we have established the facts of carbon emissions, let us review how to reduce your air travel related carbon emissions. The best option is to travel less or travel only when necessary. If you must travel, here are some simple things you can do to reduce your air travel carbon emissions. Since taxiing and takeoff can burn up to 25% of the total fuel for a given flight, flying non-stop minimizes fuel consumption. Given all the delays these days with air travel, it makes more sense to pay a little extra to fly non-stop when possible. Plus, it’s worth the time it saves you and the convenience of not having to make (or miss) your connecting flight in an unfamiliar airport. It also helps to fly the latest version the available planes, though this is not always in your control. Within the US, generally low-cost airlines do indeed fly the most fuel-efficient planes to keep their own costs low, so it is better to fly with one of these airlines when possible. Outside of these suggestions, there is really not much you can do to reduce your air travel carbon emissions today.

Buying carbon offsets are the only way to neutralize your carbon emissions from air travel today. The big challenge with buying carbon offsets is the lack of certified, high quality options. One good option is to install solar panels on your own roof. Please refer to our Part II of this series to calculate the size of the solar panel system you will need to offset your travel, as it varies from state to state. Since solar panels last for over 20 years, your offset will be effective for a long time. Investing in an electric car is another good option to offset your air travel emissions. Please refer to Part I of this series to calculate your carbon offset with your electric car. Installing a Nest or similar smart thermostat, replacing your older light bulbs with LED bulbs, and replacing your gas lawn equipment with electric versions are all good options.

Finally, if you are wondering what is in the future for air travel, there are a few promising low carbon emission options on the horizon. Biojet fuel or jet fuel derived from plant-based materials is looking quite promising. Biojet will allow us to be carbon neutral, and most biojet fuels are drop-in replacements for jet fuel based on fossil fuels. It is our hope that airlines will encourage development of biojet fuels in the next decade. Electric planes are also an option for smaller planes with short haul flights, but the technology is not mature enough to be used in larger planes like the Boeing 747 or Airbus 380.

All numbers cited in this article were obtained from government web sites for the year 2017. This article concludes the three-part series “Top three changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint”. We hope you found this series educational and informative. Please contact us for any questions or comments.

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