A Few Facts About Flying

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

Last week, I flew to a business conference in lovely Phoenix, AZ. I usually avoid flying, but driving over 2000 miles each way was not an option. So I took the opportunity to look a little more closely at the environmental impacts of flying.

It turns out that Tampa Bay has a proud place in the history of flight. The first commercial flight EVER occurred between St. Petersburg and Tampa back in 1914. Since then, the tourists that fly to our shores have become a crucial part of the state’s economy. Just to give you a sense, Tampa International Airport handled over 16 million passengers last year, Orlando handled over 35 million passengers, and Miami beat them both with 38 million passengers in 2011. That’s a LOT of folks flying in and out of our fair state.

While flying produces a small percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions each year, it is actually one of the fastest growing sectors for emissions as more people take to the air. So know the facts about your travel.

According to this carbon calculator from the International Civil Aviation Organization, my single round trip flight produced about 957 pounds of CO2 – almost half a ton. According to this carbon calculator from TerraPass, my Honda Civic Hybrid produces 7,283 pounds of CO2 – for an entire year. With the holidays just around the corner, you may want to consider the environmental costs of your celebrations if you plan to fly.

While airlines are not leading the charge towards green, there are some positive developments on the horizon:

  • Know your airline. I flew Southwest Airlines. As it happens, Southwest just won the first-ever “Eco-Pioneer of the Year” award from Air Transport World magazine. Their winning actions include diverting waste from landfills, developing airplane cabin interiors with more eco-friendly materials, and testing biofuels for their fleet. So if you have a choice of airlines, check their sustainability record at a place like GreenAironline.com and choose accordingly.
  • Stay tuned for biofuels. Researchers at our very own University of South Florida won acclaim back in 2010 for their sustainable jet fuel process. They subsequently spun off a business called COSI Catalysts. This is just one of many efforts by the airline industry to find cleaner fuels for their fleets.
  • Follow the Metroplex initiative. Tampa, Orlando and Miami airports are all participating in a collaborative effort to improve air traffic flows and cut travel times, aircraft emissions and noise on flights. This initiative, just announced by the FAA and a number of aviation industry players, will use Performance-Based Navigation methods to save as much as 8 million gallons of fuel annually.
Flying is not going away, so let’s reinvent it! New jobs in a host of industries are likely to follow.