“Help yourself before assisting others.” This is no longer just an air travel safety instruction but also the airline’s motto. Whether you are a frequent flyer or not, everyone is familiar with the ‘’nickel and diming’’ airline practices.
From additional charges for large luggage to expensive headphones to enjoy in-flight movies, we are well aware of the added charges flyers are subjected to. Though, what about the costs air travel burdens the environment with? Driven by the bottom line, airline companies are lacking in sustainable practices.
Then there is the issue of fueling the airplanes. Nichole, a passenger aboard a Delta Airlines flight enroot from Syracuse to Fort Myers, admits she had not thought about what it takes to power her flight. “I am sure it isn’t very ‘’green’’; it must take an awful amount of oil to get this bird off the ground.” She adds, “I would say that most people are just worried about getting where they want to go on time and safely.”
High on the list of new replacements for traditional fuel is biofuel made from algae. Algae biodiesel most recently made the headlines when it powered a United Airlines flight. On Monday, November 7, 2011, when passengers were flown from Houston to Chicago, the plane’s tank was filled with a half algae and biodiesel mixture. Alaska Airlines says it will soon follow this sustainable lead and use a biofuel blend made from used cooking oil. The first airline to fly using biofuel was Virgin Atlantic in 2008, though it was not a passenger flight. If using biofuel for flights becomes popular, consumers could see lower ticket prices.
Fuel produced from algae is not a new concept. In fact, under President Jimmy Carter, the Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory conducted research that concluded that algae, if produced large scale, could replace fossil fuels for home heating and transportation entirely. This was in 1978; the price of gas was through the roof, and the gas crisis was at its peak. This situation bares a shocking resemblance to the present. At that time, the technology to produce algae biodiesel affordably and efficiently did not exist. Now, in the realm of algae biodiesel, the technology and knowledge are available. This makes the fuel a viable option, though more funding and time are needed to make commercial scale algae biodiesel use a reality.
A fuel that consumes carbon dioxide (algae is an autotroph, it uses atmospheric CO2 to grow), can be grown without using valuable land, multiplies without human interference, and produces insignificant waste seems too good to be true. Thankfully, it’s not. Upon a short reflection of the current global crisis, it seems imperative that the switch be made sooner rather than later.
Nichole adds, “I would be fine flying with an alternative fuel in the tank, as long as it is well tested and approved by the right agencies, that is.” Passengers may be more receptive to the idea after they learn that flight prices will no longer depend on the rising cost of traditional fuel. Alternative fuel use in commercial flights will catch on after pressure from consumers builds. As for improving overall sustainability for airlines, the sky is the limit. A not so outlandish prediction for the future of air travel includes companies competing for more environmentally friendly flights, instead of fancier and more expensive upgrades and add-ons.