What makes a plane green?

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The Independent Travel

This week, European aircraft maker Airbus announced the first order for its new A320neo, an airplane designed to reduce the environmental impact of the world's seemingly insatiable appetite for travel.

It's the latest example of a concerted effort from aircraft manufacturers and the wider industry to clean up its act in the wake of criticism - not always levelled fairly - of the environmental cost of flying.

The International Air Transport Association has set ambitious targets to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions which will be tackled using new procedures - such as shorter routing of aircraft and increasing the number of passengers that can be flown - and new technology, such as that being introduced by Airbus and its US rival Boeing.

Both manufacturers are working to incrementally improve the design of new aircraft to take advantage of the latest technology available, such as Airbus' new "sharklets", large wingtips which reduce fuel burn by at least 3.5 percent over longer sectors.

Wingtips such as these, also used by Boeing, make the plane more aerodynamic, allowing it to cover the same distance using less fuel and producing corresponding savings in both the gasoline used and emissions produced.

Another avenue pursued by the industry is reducing the weight of aircraft, both interior (Air France and Lufthansa are currently replacing older, heavy seats with lightweight alternatives) and exterior, to reduce the fuel burnt.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, for instance, is the first airliner to be constructed entirely from composite materials, making it some 20 percent more fuel efficient that the Boeing 767, and Airbus is expected to follow suit when it launches its A350XWB in 2013.

It is expected that considerable savings will also be delivered on both aircraft by more advanced engines developed by General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce, with the A320neo slated to use LEAP-X engines which are far more efficient than their predecessors.

The holy grail of greening aircraft is to develop something which doesn't require fossil fuel or emit toxic gases at all, and while that scenario is a long way off, airlines are beginning to embrace the use of biofuels to reduce their dependancy on fossil fuel.

From April 2011, Lufthansa will run some commercial flights on a 50-50 mix of biofuel and kerosene, becoming the first airline to put biofuels into operation - albeit on a limited scale.

Although IATA points out that aviation accounts for only 2 percent of manmade carbon dioxide emissions, environmental campaigners maintain that flying is by far the most damaging form of transport and public pressure on the industry seems unlikely to ease in the near future.

Find out more:

Airbus - Eco Efficiency
Boeing - Environment
IATA - Environment

WWF - Role of Aircraft and Shipping
Greenpeace UK - The problem with Aviation
Plane Stupid

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