The airline industry has a huge emissions problem. As a result, more efficient jet fuel, electric engines, and many other innovations are being considered. However, a new study has found an easier way to cut airplane emissions.
Reduce the altitude of planes by 1.7%.
While this does not sound like a big change, it could lower the impact of aviation by a whopping 59.3%. This enormous reduction is because the flight contrails will no longer appear.
Flight contrails are the white streaks you see in the air as a plane flys by and are responsible for 14% of emissions and air pollution. Eliminating those is a very big deal, and an altitude change does just that.
This is because the white streaks will only appear in thinner areas of atmosphere, in which the humidity is very high.
Why are Contrails a Big Part of Airplane Emissions?
The reason that contrails have such a huge impact on the environment is that they can block sunlight.
While this may have you thinking they are a good thing it works both ways. Not only could they block sunlight entering the planet, but they can also block it from leaving as well.
Contrails can last up to 18 hours, which means they can last long enough to do some serious damage. Especially when you consider it’s estimated there will be over 40 million flights in 2020.
What’s Stopping Airlines?
Surely such a simple solution must have been looked at in the past, right?
In reality, the problem is that the atmosphere is not consistent. For example, if you have ever hit turbulence while on a plane, it is because the atmosphere has changed, which caused the wind speed to increase significantly.
Planes would need to have a device that can track atmospheric density and humidity to find the right altitude to fly at. And that technology simply does not exist yet.
However, this research is only the first step and could help lead to new technologies to lower airplane emissions.