Thursday, December 4, 2008

Will fewer jet flights lower our carbon footprint?

So what does the Peachtree State have to do with being green? Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport remains the busiest airport in the country for the number of domestic passengers that arrived or departed on a flight in the month of August 2008. The United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that some 3.5 million domestic passengers used this airport during the month. There were a total of 58.8 million domestic passengers in the entire United States during August 2008. This figure seems large till one compare the data with the corresponding month a year ago of August 2007. In August 2008 there were 6.1% fewer domestic passengers than in August 2007. There were however 2.0% more international passengers in August 2008 than in 2007.

There were 820,100 domestic flights in August 2008 some 6.0% fewer flights than the corresponding month in 2007.Now that I have bored you all to death with flight statistics for the United States, I will tie in what this has to do with being green. Air Transportation is very energy intensive as the airplanes are heavier than air and need massive thrust from their engines to stay aloft. All this thrust comes from kerosene jet fuel that is refined from crude oil. Therefore the fewer flights we have the less jet fuel we consume. The US Energy Information Agency has reported that for the four weeks ending November 15 2008 some 20.3% less jet fuel was delivered Airlines than in the same period last year. The airlines still took delivery of 1,291,000 barrels a day on average of jet fuel during the past four weeks. No doubt the number of total flights in the USA for the month of November 2008 will be well down from the number in August 2008 and also November 2007.

While I am the Green Machine these statistics are frightening as the energy saved was not through conservation but rather due to a precipitous decline in economic activity. The reduced demand for Jet Fuel, Residual Oil, Gasoline and Diesel has significantly lowered the price of oil and hence these refined products. The reduced revenue the oil exporters receive is not my concern. I don't care if it is "Goodbye to Dubai". My concern is that we don't go back to sleep on the energy conservation front. Global warming is continuing irrespective of this small decline in energy consumption. Airlines are trying to conserve fuel by lightening the load. Some planes are never painted as it makes no sense to spend fuel to keep paint aloft. Now that they serve less food and charge for checked in bags the payload of each flight is also decreasing. Also with fewer flight there is far less circling of airports waiting for a slot to land and a space to park at the jetway.

Trains are far more fuel efficient than Airplanes for the simple reason they do not have to have thrust to keep them buoyant. Had the 58.8 million domestic passengers that flew in August 2008 traveled by train, more than half the fuel used by the planes would have been saved. Of course long distance flights will always be needed but hopefully more people will hop on the train or bus for a trip of a few hundred miles. The average domestic flight in the US consumes 2,050 gallons of jet fuel and carries 71 passengers. Don't believe the saying that "the only way to travel is to fly".

8 comments:

  1. Interesting topic, Dad! I wish I could take a train home from Hartford, but then I would lose a week or so of my vacation and wouldn't get to see you! Maybe they should develop faster trains :)

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  2. Hi Lexi

    Soon we might have a high speed train from LA to San Fran or Boston to DC. Poor Hartford may never get a fast train Dad

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