Commercial Aviation and Environmental Sustainability

Christopher Harrod

Given how airplanes have been the news recently with unfortunate crashes and government mandated groundings, I thought sharing what I’ve learned about the airline industry would be topical. Over the past few months I’ve gotten into learning about the industry on both sides (airline and manufacturing) and it has sort of consumed my free time. Here it goes.

Every year more and more people take to the skies and more commercial aircraft are decommissioned and sent to the desert to just sit and maybe scrapped. The United States’ leading manufacturer, Boeing, has started to look towards sustainable design to avoid unnecessary waste. Back in the early days of the aviation industry, manufacturers didn’t give much thought to the materials used which, after 30 years of service, leads to mass grave yards of retired planes made with materials that can’t be recycled. This lead Boeing to unveil a plane called 787 Dreamliner made with more composite, carbon fiber materials than any aircraft before it. Much of these materials can be recycled after the years of service such as carpet, upholstery, and structure. The decreased weight of the composite compared to aluminum alloys made the fuel efficiency and range of the aircraft much better. Carbon fiber structural materials also last much longer than the aluminium counterparts which reduces the rate at which they will need to be replaced in the future

It is also worth mentioning the engines and the aviation market they satisfy. From the 1970’s to the early 2000’s airlines and manufactures built large planes with 3 or 4 inefficient engines in order to traverse the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to fill the growing market of middle class international travelers. These huge planes like the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 are much less fuel efficient than the 787 but have essentially the same range. The 787’s engines can theoretically carry it between any two points on the planet except directly over the south pole. Because of the sheets size of the larger aircraft, they cannot fill the same traveler market as the smaller more efficient planes.

Boeing’s vision for an environmentally sustainable aviation industry has inspired its rival European manufacturer, Airbus, to follow suit with their newest plane, the a350 which is also made out of carbon fiber materials. The 2 manufacturers make up about 90% of the planes in the sky, so their move towards sustainability is all the more crucial as aviation pollution is expected to triple by 2050.

Personally I feel it is kind of inspiring to see such efforts by leading industrialists to a sustainable future especially since one that has such a corner on the aviation market. Not many environmentalists talk about policy for airplanes (which makes sense given the numerous other pressing issues) so I found it important to share this little gem of information that really piqued my interest.

If you want more information on the Boeing and Airbus rivalry check out this link: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxufNxPcO7A)

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: