Can air travel go green?

International travel is at an all-time high. The number of international trips rose from 625 million in 1995 to more than 1.3 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank. Tourism is an $8 trillion industry, and one out of every 11 jobs worldwide is now in the sector, says a recent report.

Just one round-trip flight between New York and California emits close to one metric ton of carbon dioxide per person, or about 20% of the greenhouse gases that your car produces in one year.

A projected increase in international tourism could cause demand for jet fuel to double by 2030, and air travel could account for 25% of global warming by 2050.

The quest is on for alternative airplane fuels, but none have yet fully taken flight (at least in a viable commercial sense). Back in 2008, Airbus demonstrated at the Berlin Air Show a version of their A320 airliner that used fuel cells to power steering systems.

Researchers are exploring the use of oils certain kinds of algae to produce fuel. EasyJet recently cut emissions by almost 31% by building more efficient planes, using only one engine while taxiing, using electrical power while at the airport, and regularly washing engine compressors among other tactics. Several patents have been filed for ideas on how to reduce contrails, the white cloud-like lines that jets leave at high altitudes that can trap heat.

This UN report has even more ideas: devising a standard way to measure an aircraft’s fuel burn and CO2 emissions, and rewarding advances in airplane technologies that contribute to reductions in CO2 emissions.

Updating fleets so that they are more environmentally friendly is also a good idea.

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