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Flybe launches world’s first aircraft eco-labelling.
June 4, 2007 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Introducing the world’s first aircraft eco-labelling. While there are certainly several instances of other airlines doing something to off-set the carbon footprint of commercial flying, it is interesting to note that (according to the ATA) flying is the greenest form of mass transportation and ground transportation generates seven times the amount of greenhouse gases as air travel.
posted by analogue (20 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is something I have wondered about for a while. The 'seven times' figure is missing some key information, namely the number of people flying, and the trip length. I see the article is rating CO2/seat, but I think you need to do CO2/seat/km, right? If I'm taking a train or bus, is it more or less 'green' than flying? Is there a trip length where one overtakes the other?
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2007


Well the straight comparison should be CO2/passenger/km - empty seats don't count. More importantly though, there is the lifestyle question. Nobody drives Toronto to Hong Kong, but lots of people fly back and fourth a few times a year. A linear efficiency comparison simply isn't very informative.

On top of all that, I highly doubt their numbers :P
posted by Chuckles at 1:56 PM on June 4, 2007


And busses and trains don't leave chemtrails.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2007


I tried to find backing evidence of the "seven times" figure but came up empty. It could be irresponsible reporting, but I thought it noteworthy enough to include in the post.
posted by analogue at 2:10 PM on June 4, 2007


Well the straight comparison should be CO2/passenger/km - empty seats don't count.

The normal metric is RPMs (revenue passenger miles). For instance, the average airline fuel efficiency is 48.9 RPM/gallon. (The other option is ASM - available seat miles.)

It's a good thing they don't measure car travel using these metrics, because the single commuter in virtually anything would be worse than a mom and her three kids in an Expedition.
posted by smackfu at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2007


Oh puh-leeeeease...
posted by alby at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2007


I tried to find backing evidence of the "seven times" figure but came up empty.

That's because they probably mean [Passenger commercial air travel] vs. [All the ground transport, including freight], which suddenly doesn't look so good when you start actually crunching the numbers. Discount the rail, and tractor-trailers and try comparing apples to apples and stick to just passenger ground travel and that ratio will drop of very, very fast.

Put it another way: Our industry segment - which is 1000th or 10,000th the size of this other industry segment - generates only 1/7th the pollution! Yay!

On a completely full, modern 737 with no business or 1st class sections - all coach - you might be lucky to break 100 mpg, per passenger on a long flight. 50 mpg/passenger is much more common.

Which beats individual cars with a single driver, sure. But I doubt it beats out a full bus.

Air travel - and speed in general - becomes quite costly, fuel-wise. The faster you go the more fuel you need and the more energy you need to carry that fuel.

None of this even begins to account for the fact that jets fly at an altitude that allows them to inject vast quantities of exhaust directly into the upper atmosphere, with unknown effects on the greenhouse effect, or the aldebo (reflectivity/transmissivity ratios) of our atmosphere.

Flying? Green? Uh, not hardly. Unless your flying vehicle of choice is a blimp or dirigible. Make it solar powered and now you're talking.
posted by loquacious at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2007


OK then, what about flying coast to coast in North America? Or Chicago to New York? Or within continental Europe? Business travellers often have no choice but to fly, but people making trips for personal reasons - moving, visiting family, vacation - may have other options. For short hops - maybe 500km to 1000km - I can't imagine flying is any better than a train. But of course I need stats to back that up and I don't have them.

Upon further review of the first linked article, I see they propose rating CO2/seat "on a range of typical European sector basis (500, 1000 and 1500 KM) ". I went digging around their site and found the detailed labelling scheme (.pdf link) which has these figures for each plane. Now, Eurostar claims their train has 10 times less emissions than a comparable flight (London/Paris/Brussels). The Barcelona-Madrid line claims 3-5X improvement over flying, but it's not clear if this statistic applies only to Barcelona-Madrid flights or to flights in general. I also found this flight C02 calculator.

I think it would not be difficult to tabulate CO2 data from planes, cars, buses, and trains, and crunch the numbers. I don't think anyone has done this yet in a comprehensive way. Sounds like a good project.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:38 PM on June 4, 2007


Air travel - and speed in general - becomes quite costly, fuel-wise. The faster you go the more fuel you need and the more energy you need to carry that fuel.

This needs repeating, again and again.

Short haul flights actually have a chance against other modes of transport, because they go substantially slower.

I can't imagine flying is any better than a train.

In many charts I've seen, boats are surprisingly bad - presumably because water drag is so high compared to air - and rail vs. highway are very similar.

Again though, these things aren't full comparisons - track is way better than concrete, in so many ways.. Much more durable, much smaller footprint on the landscape, a large percentage of the material is highly recyclable.

It is a bit of a digression, but..
Business travellers often have no choice but to fly

I think people should take individual responsibility for their actions - "I was just following orders" is not a defense.

posted by Chuckles at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2007


It's probably more efficient, in terms of CO2 emissions, for a planeload of people to travel from North America to Asian than it would be for someone to drive a similar distance.

However, no one actually drives from LA to Tokyo, so this argument is based on a false comparison.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:10 PM on June 4, 2007


"We Are All Killers - until we stop flying" by George Monbiot.

As far as climate change is concerned, this is an utter, unparalleled disaster. It’s not just that aviation represents the world’s fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions. The burning of aircraft fuel has a “radiative forcing ratio” of around 2.7(11). What this means is that the total warming effect of aircraft emissions is 2.7 times as great as the effect of the carbon dioxide alone. The water vapour they produce forms ice crystals in the upper troposphere (vapour trails and cirrus clouds) which trap the earth’s heat. (*)
posted by hoskala at 3:27 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


On a completely full, modern 737 with no business or 1st class sections - all coach - you might be lucky to break 100 mpg, per passenger on a long flight. 50 mpg/passenger is much more common.

And in a jet you're going 2000 miles, not 200. Environmentalists don't fly unless they have to, and most of their vacations are relatively close to home.

If business travellers "often have no choice but to fly," they can still plan their vacations around those "forced" flights so have to fly for a vacation less often.

Half of all business flights would never happen if the people flying them tried to find other ways to do business rather than just chuckling and saying, "Oh, darn, I have to fly to China again. Poor me." If the company would pay you the cost of the ticket in a bonus if you could do the deal without flying, would it still be a necessary flight, or would you often find a way to do that business without the long trip?
posted by pracowity at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2007


Surely aircraft are the hardest thing to reduce the carbon emissions of? Aircraft require high energy density, which is very hard to do at this point with renewable energy sources.

Isn't power generation the ideal target? Going renewable or nuclear could massively cut emissions without radically altering behavior and the economy.
posted by sien at 4:09 PM on June 4, 2007


Going renewable or nuclear could massively cut emissions without radically altering behavior and the economy.

The latter has been tried. I remember my dad telling me about how he turned down a job working on this project, just before it was cancelled.
posted by stargell at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2007


I just read George Monbiot's excellent Heat, quoted above by hoskala. He devotes an entire chapter to flying and its impacts and solutions. In summary, it is the most depressing chapter of the book. There is no solution in the foreseeable future, and there are no better alternatives (high speed trains, ships, etc..). Although flying is better than driving, most people drive about 9k miles a year, while a round-trip flight between NY and London is a years of driving in a single trip. In short, the only way to reduce the CO2 is simply not take the trip.
posted by stbalbach at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2007


without radically altering behavior and the economy.

This is why I don't put any particular emphasis on carbon/global warming. Radical alteration of behavior and the economy is necessary! It doesn't take long on google maps to realise how ridiculous North America is.
Radical, but not necessarily quick, for the record.
posted by Chuckles at 5:03 PM on June 4, 2007


The latter has been tried. I remember my dad telling me about how he turned down a job working on this project, just before it was cancelled.
I may be mistaken, but I think I have seen the results of this project. They're on display in the parking lot at EBR-1, in southern Idaho, just off the interstate.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:18 PM on June 4, 2007


Half of all business flights would never happen if the people flying them tried to find other ways to do business rather than just chuckling and saying, "Oh, darn, I have to fly to China again. Poor me."

I don't know if you're saying this sarcastically or not :-). Most of the business flights/travel I used to do, sucked. I'd have loved for there to be better alternatives than being there in person. I doubt if half of all business travellers are "chuckling". I remember I wasn't when I had to fly out to Omaha, Nebraska and it took nine frickin' hours in transit.
posted by storybored at 5:47 PM on June 4, 2007


Proper labeling reduces carbon emissions?
posted by Balisong at 8:18 PM on June 4, 2007


"Oh, darn, I have to fly to China again. Poor me."

You get to fly 15 hours to middle-of-nowhere China so you can train people with limited English skills for 10 hours a day. Boy, that sounds like fun.
posted by smackfu at 8:22 PM on June 4, 2007


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