New research shows airlines can save fuel and cut emissions on transatlantic flights by improving airflow management. The details are published by Environmental Research Letters.
Scientists at the University of Reading found that 16% less fuel could have been used on commercial flights between New York and London last winter. It’s all about making the best use of the gusts at altitude.
New satellites will soon enable more accurate tracking of transatlantic flights. This capability could allow aircraft to be more flexible in their flight paths to follow tailwinds and avoid oncoming gusts. This will help the aviation sector reduce emissions cheaply and quickly, without waiting for a technological breakthrough.
“Existing transatlantic routes are burning fuel and emitting carbon dioxide more than they need to,” explains Katie Wells, a female Ph.D. from the University of Reading and lead author of the study. “While wind is partly taken into account in route planning, considerations such as reducing overall flight costs are now more important than minimizing fuel consumption and pollution.”
Simple adjustments to flight paths are much cheaper and can be beneficial immediately, the scientists believe. There is an urgent need to reduce aviation emissions to mitigate the future impacts of climate change.
In the study, scientists analyzed about 35,000 flights in both directions between New York and London from December 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020. The experts compared the fuel consumption of these flights versus the fastest route that would be possible during the flight, with more accurate air flow accounting.
It turned out that using the benefits of wind can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6.7 million kg over the winter period, the average fuel economy per flight was 1.7% when flying west to New York and 2.5% when flying east in London.