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2015: 290,939
2014: 363,407
Total: 1,212,540

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New Recycling Programs in the Aviation Industry

Turning Leather Seat covers into Soccer balls.  Part of Southwest's new LUV Seat program - Photo: Southwest Airlines

Turning leather seat covers into soccer balls; part of Southwest’s new LUV Seat program – Photo: Southwest Airlines

When you think about recycling in the aviation industry, most folks think of the aircraft that are scrapped and recycled.  Some airlines will recycle the cans and cups onboard that get used, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.  However, what about something on a different scale?  Two programs have been launched this year that take different approaches to using up leftover materials and recycling them into something useful – something that will help people, not just the company’s bottom line.

In July of this year, Southwest Airlines launched their “LUV Seat” program, or as the motto puts it “Repurpose with a Purpose”.  Labeled more as “re-purposing” than “recycling”, the program is designed to take the leftover leather from Southwest seat refurbishments and turn them into usable goods.

The first of those materials is heading to Africa, where seat leather will be turned into soccer balls, shoes, and other items.  They don’t call it “recycling” – they call it “up-cycling”.  Turning unwanted items into higher value products.

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The State of “Green” Aviation Today

Green airplane isolated on white with clipping path

The general public is becoming more and more aware of climate change, and the aviation sector is embracing the “green” trend in a number of ways. Sure, the automakers may get all of the attention with their hybrid, electric, and biodiesel vehicles, many of them venturing into truly buzzworthy territory with Audi’s 200 mpg city car and Porsche’s 800-horsepower 918 hybrid. But many people – including aviation industry insiders – aren’t aware of the truly innovative solutions being developed and implemented to combat climate change and carbon emissions in the aviation sector.

Aviation Biofuels

Perhaps the most exciting trend is the rise of aviation biofuels, most of which are true drop-in replacements for petroleum-based jet fuels. UOP, a leading petrochemical producer owned by Honeywell, has been developing a plant-based biofuel branded Green Jet Fuel. It is produced from camelina, an inedible oilseed crop whose production doesn’t interfere with existing natural resources. This fuel has successfully powered more than 27 demonstrations flights since 2008. Just last month, five Gulfstream aircraft flew into this year’s National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention using a 50/50 mix of biofuel and Jet A. Honeywell claims this fuel has the ability to reduce carbon emissions by 60-85%.

Honeywell is far from the only company working on jet biofuels. The Research Council of Canada recently undertook the world’s first civilian flight powered by 100% unblended biofuel. This flight utilized ReadiJet, a biofuel produced from an industrial oilseed crop derived from Ethiopian Mustard.

Oilseed crops are not the only basis for aircraft biofuels. The first algae-fueled flights are shaping up for 2013. ENN, a leading Chinese bio-energy firm, has partnered with Airbus to produce algae-based biofuel for the Chinese aviation market. Test flights are planned to begin next year.

“Green” Departures, Routes, Arrivals

In Sweden, aviation innovators have been pioneering the use of existing technologies to make airline travel more resource-efficient. The Green Connection, a partnership between Sweden’s public air navigation authority and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), conducted more than 100 “green flights” in 2012. These flights aimed to reduce emissions and conserve fuel in three ways: green departures, direct routes, and green approaches.

Green departures were accomplished through continuous rates of climb, while minimum-thrust, continuous descent approaches (CDA) made for “green arrivals.” Approach paths were shortened through RNP-AR performance-based navigation (PBN) technology, while Sweden’s FRAS initiative allowed for shortened direct routes.

The result? Carbon emissions were reduced by 100-165 kg per approach, and flight paths were shortened by 20-plus kilometers. Swedavia CEO Torborg Chetkovich has stated of PBN technology: “Full utilization of this latest navigation technology would shorten flight paths at Swedavia’s airports, in one year alone, by a distance corresponding to twenty five around-the-world flights. This is a major contribution to fuel economy and reduced climate impact.”

Currently, SAS is the only airline approved to utilize RNP-AR for “green approaches” into Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, but many other operators have the capability to utilize this technology.

United Airlines's first commercial advanced biofuel flight using a Boeing 737-800 (N76516) takes off from Houston yesterday. Photo by United.

Airlines, like United, have started experimenting with eco-friendly biofuels.  Photo by United.

Carbon Offsetting

If you’re in the aviation industry, you’ve probably heard the hype – and controversy – that surrounds the carbon offset market. Many airlines have enabled eco-conscious passengers to cancel out the environmental impact of their flight in one way or another. They may be able to contribute directly to a renewable energy project of their choice – typically a wind or solar project – or purchase carbon offsets. The companies offering these offsets, in turn, reinvest the proceeds in various clean energy projects. Airline travelers can often offset their flight for as little as $2. As you can imagine, the costs are much higher for those flying on corporate jets. Terrapass is perhaps the best-known of these companies, funding a wide variety of various projects, from wind-farms to landfill gas capture systems on landfills and farmsteads.

Unfortunately, carbon offsets companies were largely unregulated at first, and many environmental experts questioned their true benefits. Additionally, consumers have historically had issues with the intangible nature of carbon offsets, preferring to know exactly where their money is going. Several third-party verifications have emerged to address this issue, such as the Verified Carbon Standard and Climate Action Reserve, but controversy remains.

The Sustainable Airport

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are not the aviation sector’s only green innovators; airports are quickly jumping on the eco-bandwagon. The Chicago Department of Aviation sponsored the fifth annual Airports Going Green conference in November, and many sustainable solutions were showcased. Airports are testing LED lighting systems that brighten and dim based on factors such as daylight intensity and the number of people in the terminal. Goats have been used instead of gas-powered mowers at SFO for years, and Chicago O’Hare is currently conducting a 30-goat pilot program to do the same. ORD and Indianapolis are both working on large-scale solar installations, though the FAA is studying the possible safety concerns associated with glare from the panels themselves. Geothermal heating and cooling is being used or developed at many airports, and hybrid rental cars and green taxis are on the rise. Perhaps the most innovative solution of all? “Flying windmills” that soar high over airports on tethers, taking advantage of the winds aloft to generate much more wind power than conventional wind turbines.

For many airports, the benefits are twofold. Not only do such innovations reduce emissions, many of them they allow airports to be less dependent on the traditional power grid – an important asset during blackouts like those that plagued the Northeastern US and Canada in 2003.

As you can see, the aviation industry is packed with eco-innovators who are developing new technologies and harnessing existing ones to minimize fuel costs and make air travel more energy-efficient.

This article was co-authored by Taylor Brown and Benjamin Jerew. Taylor is the founder of Karma Jets, an innovative new jet charter service that plants trees to offset its clients’ flights – at its own cost. Ben, a former master Toyota/Lexus technician, is an alternative fuels expert and regular contributor to the tech-forward automotive portal

Boeing and Air New Zealand Work Together to Make the 777 Delivery Process More Green

Boeing painter Bill Pearson applies chrome-free primer to the 777-300ER that was delivered to Air New Zealand in November 2011. Photo from Boeing.

Boeing painter Bill Pearson applies chrome-free primer to the 777-300ER that was delivered to Air New Zealand in November 2011. Photo from Boeing.

Boeing has announced 10 initiatives on the 777 program that will help to eliminate 5.5 million pounds of CO2 and 300,000 gallons of jet fuel per year just in the 777 delivery process.

A lot of attention is given to how airlines can save money and the environment when flying them, but how about aircraft manufactures saving a little green (money and environment) before an aircraft is even delivered?

Before each 777 is delivered, there is a 20-day process of paint, tests and flights before Boeing hands over a brand plane to a customer. Boeing has been working on creating a more efficient process with Air New Zealand, which took delivery of a 777 using all ten initiatives.

“A team of employees identified redundancies in testing,” said Jeff Klemann, vice president Everett Delivery Center stated in a press release. “One idea was to eliminate engine-run tests already performed by GE, the 777’s engine manufacturer. This will result in a reduction of 1.4 million pounds of CO2 in 2012 as well as less community noise and emissions.”

In December 2010, Air New Zealand took delivery of their first Boeing 777-300ER. Photo by

In December 2010, Air New Zealand took delivery of their first Boeing 777-300ER. Photo by

A team of employees identified redundancies in testing and new more sustainable processes.Through out the 777 delivery process the team implemented the following 10 initiatives:

* Eliminated redundant fuel test in pre-delivery flight test
* Reduced the amount of times hydraulic filters are changed
* Eliminated engine-run tests already performed by GE
* Used waste fuel carts
* Reduced the number of times potable water is changed
* Reduced the amount of times engine fuel filters are changed
* Enhanced recycling throughout the delivery process
* Used electric carts instead of gas-powered vehicles
* Improved flight planning efficiency for pre-delivery flights to reduce fuel loads and flight times
* Used chrome-free primer

Nine of the initiatives will come standard with all future 777 deliveries. Usage of the special chrome-free paint will be an airline option.

* Behind the scenes of an ANZ 777-300ER delivery
* Checking out the interior of ANZ’s 777-300ER

Alaska Airlines Goes Green in Nome, Alaska

Wind power for Alaska Airlines up in Nome, Alaska.

Wind power for Alaska Airlines up in Nome, Alaska. Photo from Alaska Airlines.

So where the heck is Nome, Alaska? It is pretty darn as close to the middle of no where as you can get, although it is on the western edge of Alaska. It is a small town of less than 4,000 people and transportation to destinations outside the city is difficult to come by. Roads connect Nome to smaller cities up to 54 miles away, but there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of the world. For the town to operate, it requires transportation via water and air.

Air travel becomes a necessity to get goods and people to and from remote areas in Alaska and Alaska Airlines is one of a few airlines operating out of Nome – it is also the largest.

Nome has long days in the summer, short in the winter and is the end destination of the Iditarod dog sled race. The remote city is also known for its fierce winds of 80 to 90mph. With being so remote, having strong winds and long days of light in the summer, it makes sense for locals to look at alternative sources of energy and that is just what Alaska Airlines has done.

Recently the airline built a 30-foot wind turbine next to the Nome Terminal and installed solar panel array on the roof.  According to Alaska, “the project is the first foray for Alaska Airlines into using wind and solar power to produce a significant amount of an airport’s electricity – and it appears to be the first time a domestic carrier has pursued alternative energy for an airport operation.”

Alaska is hoping that the turbine and solar panels will produce around 15,000 kilowatt hours of power per year, which is about 6 percent of the terminal’s load. If successful, the concept may be expanded to other rural airports in Alaska, said Ron Suttell, Alaska’s director of facilities planning and administration.

“The turbine was selected because it performs well in turbulent air, it is engineered to continue producing electricity in harsh climates and high winds, and the design eliminates icing issues on the blades,” Chris Andree, Alaska Airlines’ regional manager of properties and facilities, who oversaw the project for the airline.