In a recent study at the University of Reading, scientists at the have found that airlines airlines could reduce their emissions on transatlantic flights by hitching a better ride on the jet stream. The study found that commercial flights between New York and London last winter could have used up to 16% less fuel if they had made better use of the fast-moving winds at altitude.
In addition, scientists found that taking better advantage of the winds would have saved around 200 kilometers worth of fuel per flight on average. This totaled to a overall reduction of 6.7 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions across the winter season. The average fuel saving per flight was 1.7% when flying west to New York and 2.5% when flying east to London.
Professor Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading and co-author of the new study, said: “Upgrading to more efficient aircraft or switching to biofuels or batteries could lower emissions significantly, but will be costly and may take decades to achieve.
“Simple tweaks to flight paths are far cheaper and can offer benefits immediately. This is important, because lower emissions from aviation are urgently needed to reduce the future impacts of climate change.”
New satellites will soon allow transatlantic flights to be tracked more accurately while remaining a safe distance apart. This opportunity could allow aircraft to be more flexible in their flight paths, in order to more accurately follow favourable tailwinds and avoid headwinds, offering the aviation sector a cheaper and more immediate way of cutting emissions than through advances in technology. However it is important to remember climate change is likely to have a big impact on air travel, therefore action is needed immediately in order to see a positive impact.
"Cheap and immediate benefits"
Countries around the world have responded through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) by establishing policies to improve the fuel efficiency of international flights, focusing primarily on technological advances, operational and air navigation efficiencies, sustainable alternative fuels, and a carbon offsetting agreement (CORSIA) for emissions produced over international airspace.