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Epic A380 Contrail Seen From 747 [Video]. How Efficient Are New Jets?

A380 contrail

The embedded video, which is doing the rounds at the moment, is of a spectacular (watch until the end!) contrail created by an Airbus A380, as seen from the cockpit of a Boeing 747. Watching this video got me wondering about the emissions from these huge new jets.

As a competitor to the Airbus A380, Boeing has created the world’s longest passenger jet, the Boeing 747-8.

New Jetliner Efficiency?

Any way you spin it with these new jetliners, there’s a lot of CO2 going into the atmosphere from the huge number of aircraft in the skies worldwide every day, but how do these new aircraft stack up in terms of efficiency? Are they light on emissions and more efficient that previous aircraft? They are certainly bigger, but does the ability to carry more passengers mean they are more efficient?

The Boeing 747-8 is nearly 6 meters longer than its predecessors and can carry 467 passengers, which is 51 more than the current version of the 747. Boeing has been quick to emphasize the environmental benefits of this new jet. The company has said that it will improve fuel economy by 16 percent and have 16 percent fewer carbon emissions per passenger than the 747-400. It will also have a 30 percent smaller noise footprint.

Airbus claims the A380 is an environmentally friendly aircraft, which produces half as much noise on take-off as its competitor and consumes less than 3 litres of fuel per passenger over 100 km. This is a rate comparable to that of an economical family car. The company says “the A380 provides the most economical and socially responsible solution to growing air traffic on key trunk routes”.

Airbus has previously launched the A320neo (new engine option), which offers 15 percent less fuel burn. This is apparently equivalent to a saving of up to 3,600 tonnes of C02 emissions per aircraft per year.

Airbus CEO and President Tom Enders has stated that the company is expecting a further increase in overall deliveries of aircraft in 2011, and that “This is the result of strong airline demand for new and more eco-efficient aircraft”.

Biofuel Passenger Jet Flights

Airbus says it’s been working on the commercialization of alternative fuels by establishing a “value chain” in Brazil, which brings together farmers, refiners and airlines. The company has completed Latin America’s first biofuel flights.

Back in December 2010, Lufthansa and Airbus announced the launch of the world’s first ever scheduled biofuel commercial passenger jet flights, from April 2011. These flights will fly between Hamburg and Frankfurt. The fuel used will be a blend made from 50 percent Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO)

Boeing has said that it hopes aviation biofuel will be practical for the commercial market by 2015, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Boeing’s director of environment and aviation policy, Richard Wayne, has said the company is working with others in the industry to have 1% of all aviation fuel come from non-petroleum sources by 2015. It doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t as a percentage. Even so, this represents about 16 million gallons, which goes to show just how much aviation fuel is used in the world each year.

The company has expressed a desire to produce aircraft that offer higher performance, jets that burn less fuel and emit less carbon into the atmosphere. Wayne has said that fuel can be saved and emissions lowered through more efficient engines, lighter planes and better aerodynamics, more efficient air traffic control and airlines cutting waste. However, those efforts alone won’t allow the industry to reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020. New fuels that result in fewer carbon emissions will be necessary.

The Future For The Airline Industry?

Do you think enough is being done to curb carbon emissions from the airline industry? An additional measure that is understandably not entertained by the airline industry, and not often discussed elsewhere, is the possibility that we may have to start traveling a lot less by jet than we do now, in order to reduce carbon emissions quickly. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room in terms of international travel.

Is this something you could see happening? Do you think industry efficiencies and new biofuels will be enough to do the what’s required in terms of reducing emissions?

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