Greener Airplanes, Bluer Skies

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It can be tricky sometimes to be both an aviator and an environmentalist, but it's getting easier all the time. Every week we're seeing more stories about biofuel research and electric-powered airplanes. The effort to fly Solar Impulse around the world may not deliver practical technology for GA right now, but it wouldn't surprise me if 10 or 20 years from now we're seeing photovoltaic cells across every airplane's wings, even if they're only there to power some iGadget that you can't live without.

And it's a good trend to see more GA OEMs marketing their aircraft as fuel-efficient. With an iffy economy and uncertain fuel prices, efficiency is not only good for the environment, it's good for sales and good for pilots' finances.

But there's another way we can help to reduce GA's environmental impact and at the same time make it available to more people. That would be more and better shared ownership options.

While we're used to thinking of the environmental impact of emissions, we don't usually hear about the impact of the machines that produce those emissions. Cars, for example, represent a huge environmental cost. All those materials that go into the vehicle and its engine and tires come with a life-cycle impact -- mining, transporting, manufacturing, disposing -- that can wreak all kinds of havoc on ecosystems along the way. All for a vehicle that sits idle for probably 22 hours out of every day, just taking up space.

All things considered, that life-cycle cost for airplanes seems to me less egregious than for cars. Especially when we look at the light end of the fleet -- a two- or four-seat airplane weighs less and uses fewer materials than a comparable car. And most airplanes probably are used for more hours per day than the average automobile. But still, maximizing the use of each airplane just makes sense for minimizing both the environmental impact and the economic costs.

So programs like LetsFly that aim to make it easier to share ownership are good for your bank account, but they are also good for the planet. You can have a quarter-share in a Legend Cub for as little as $2,900 down, and fly for $400 a month and about $28 per hour. Fuel burn is under 6 gph, so at 100 mph that's about 17 mpg. Not great, but better than many gas-guzzlers on the road, and a lot more fun than sitting in traffic.

But the real advantage is that instead of building four airplanes, you've built only one. That might seem less significant when we're talking about a simple and light airplane like a Cub -- and personally I can't imagine that we'd ever have too many Cubs in the world -- but when we're talking about transportation systems, fewer units, used more intensively, makes more sense.

Let's face it, whatever you think about global warming, fossil fuels are a pretty lousy sort of energy to build an economy on. They're dirty, inefficient, hard to find, bulky, and difficult to transport, to say nothing of the geopolitical baggage. The emissions are full of toxins that persist in the environment and are probably carcinogenic to boot. We can do better.

So the future looks a little brighter -- and a little bit closer -- every time a pilot takes off in an airplane that pushes that green envelope.

Comments (47)

I think there is a couple of flaws to the “Greener Airplanes, Bluer Skies” theory. First, although aircraft are more fuel-efficient than cars, they are much harder to operate and less forgiving to mistakes. Therefore, people will choose cars over planes. Second, they are discretionary income based for the majority of people. The more taxes and regulations, the more expensive they will become and more owners will leave GA until their finances improve. Considering the current environment, that will be a long time. Third, as far as programs like LetsFly, see the second point. Lastly, manmade global warming is nothing more than slick packaging of global socialism. I, like billions of others will pass and not drink the kool-aid. Aside from nuclear power, fossil fuels are currently the most efficient form of energy, period. As technology progresses more efficient forms of energy and power production will come along. Those technologies come from the free market and not Washington. If it was that easy to have politicians mandate it, then we would have had viable wind, solar and other “Green” forms of power long ago.

Posted by: daniel schultz | July 3, 2009 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Well if there was anything in this blog that suggested that airplanes are going to replace cars, that was not was it was intended to suggest.

Also, if there was anything in this blog about Washington mandating anything, I missed that too.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 3, 2009 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Mary, I get your point. Sharing an airplane is both easier on the environment and on the pilot's wallet. Airplanes are more durable than today's cars (or maybe owner/operators take better care of them because they value them more?). And finally, fossil fuels poison us, and we owe it to the future to figure out a better source to power our world. All good. I think Mr. Schultz just does not buy the argument that we need to change anything at all. He might not be far off. Fewer airplanes in the sky would be, just like fewer cars on the road, one solution to the problem. Not, however, the solution I prefer. I'm guessing you feel the same way.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | July 3, 2009 1:45 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Amy, yes the point I was trying to make is that we can use all of our "stuff" more efficiently, and this has an environmental benefit, just as using fuel more efficiently has an environmental (as well as economic) benefit.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 3, 2009 2:17 PM    Report this comment

A good piece, but I think you underestimate the progress already made. I, like many others, already fly around at over 40mpg in a 2 seater. Mine's a 140kt Dyn'Aero MCR 01, but there are plenty of others. And Yuneec are bringing their 2 seat electric plane to Oshkosh. Put a PV panel and/or windmill on your hanger roof, and you get (largely) pollution-free flying!

I live amongst a community (in Cambridge, UK) of very serious, ethical scientists who are universally alarmed at what's going on in climate change. Our Antarctic Survey people are measuring first-hand what's going on - and as we live a few feet above sea level, it's easy to imagine what's going to happen. I'm afraid we have to ignore the few remaining ostriches (with heads buried in oil shale) and just get on with solving the problem.

It's good business too - plenty of customers want it!

Dr Tony Bishop e-Go aeroplanes

Posted by: Tony Bishop | July 6, 2009 3:26 AM    Report this comment

Ho-Hum. zzzzzzzz... green,green,green; I think I may scream. Photovoltaic cells to power electronic gadgets? That's what alternators are for. Twenty-five years from now, IF we're not regulated and/or taxed out of the skies, and that's a BIG IF, airplanes will still be powered by internal combustion engines burning fossil fuels. My bet is that we will be regulated and priced out of the skies. The global warming and greenies are living in big green, dream world.

Shared ownership may work for some to reduce their costs just to get into the air, but fewer airplanes being sold to a dwindling pilot population means fewer jobs and ultimately airframe manufacturers that go out of businesss. Heck, for me half the fun of airplane ownership is hanging out at the airport with the other airport bums and tinkering on my ship. After 60 years, it still has not seen the junkyard or the inside of a landfill.

As far as man-made global warming, its all a crock. Maybe the enviro-wackos ought to figure out how to put big diapers on these mega volcanoes that erupt every few years. They emit far more pollutants than all the automobiles, airplanes, and cows and sheep combined. There were 74 volcanoes that erupted in 2008 alone. Did you happen to see the satellite pictures of the stuff that volcano in Chile last year spewed into the atmosphere?

Enjoy your airplanes while you still can.

Posted by: Dennis Crenshaw | July 6, 2009 7:36 AM    Report this comment

Interesting. The posted reactions to this blog - 2 out of 4 so far saying definitively that 'global warming's a crock' (or words to that effect) make it clear what GA needs to do: educate pilots.

You can be sceptical about global warming (I am, and I'm a working scientist), but how on earth do you feel you have the information to conclude it's 'a crock'? That speaks only to political predisposition, not science. It's about believing what it is convenient to believe.

The point being that if they're saying it here, they're saying it in the outside world, too - is that unthinking reactionary stance really useful for GA?

Posted by: Ceri Reid | July 6, 2009 7:56 AM    Report this comment

As I said in the blog, whatever your opinion about global warming, the fact is that fossil fuels have plenty of other issues -- economic and political as well as pollution problems -- that should be driving us to seek out alternatives.

Seeing that this debate over global warming has been going on for over a decade now I don't think it's too productive for us to engage in it here..... I think we've all heard both sides by now.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 8:09 AM    Report this comment

Same old bit of mis-information. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide. Despite the arguments to the contrary, the facts speak for themselves: Greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes comprise less than one percent of those generated by today’s human endeavors.

Posted by: Tony Bishop | July 6, 2009 8:12 AM    Report this comment

If we need to educate, then we need to have honest and open debate. The global warming crowd has quashed any debate. Those who question the hypothesis and offer observations to the contrary are dismissed out of hand as "deniers". We are told that the need for action is urgent(sound familiar?). Witness the recent House committee hearings(Henry Waxman)on the Markey bill(Cap and Trade) with Algore(no scientific credentials)testifying where Lord Moncton from the U.K(meteorologist) was not allowed to offer testimony and sent home(advised by Mr. Waxman and crowd upon arrival at Dulles) because of the fear of embarassing Mr. Gore.

At this point in time the debate has moved beyond the realm of science and is in the court of the politicians.

Posted by: Dennis Crenshaw | July 6, 2009 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Lord Monckton is not a Meteorologist. He's not even a scientist. He studied Classics and then spent most of his career as a journalist.

Posted by: Tony Bishop | July 6, 2009 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Touche, Dr.Bishop. I am not a scientist, just a corporate pilot who spews his jet exhaust into the stratosphere on a weekly basis, and will admit that I don't have a firm grasp on all the facts. But I read whatever I can find on the issue. Some studies indicate that carbon dioxide may not be a cause of global warming, but in fact increase concentrations may lag, not lead, an increase in global temperatures. CO2 comprises a very small percentage of our air, less than one half of 1 percent, if I remember correctly. The largest greenhouse gas by far is water vapor. By the way, how many tons of CO2 do 6 billion earthly humans exhale yearly, and are we a major contributor to this deadly increase in CO2 concentration?

As a professional pilot with an engineering background, I am more of an observer of the weather and am certainly no scientist. I know I wont win this debate, so I'll just shut up now and wait for the flak. INCOMING!!!

P.S. Speaking of observations, NYC just experienced the coldest June since 1958. hmmm....

Posted by: Dennis Crenshaw | July 6, 2009 9:09 AM    Report this comment

okay, I'll give it one more try.... can we talk about something besides global warming?

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 9:18 AM    Report this comment

Mary G.: "Seeing that this debate over global warming has been going on for over a decade now I don't think it's too productive for us to engage in it here..... I think we've all heard both sides by now."

I'd be interested in a more clear explanation of what the point of the blog is, if it doesn't include the existence of man-made climate change as one of it's assumed bases (the implications of which go much deeper into our lives than just the GA considerations), or else exactly what GA "environmental impact" we're talking about.

Addressing blog specifics, to assert that a given amount of flight hours distributed over fewer rather than more aircraft is desireable on the environmental level, there must be an assumption that time is more destructive of aircraft than use, otherwise there is no gain. That may be the case for some aspects of the machine, but not always, depending on how it is stored and maintained.

Excellent point about fewer aircraft equalling fewer manufacturing jobs, and I'll add, an increased price per unit.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 6, 2009 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Great subject, btw. We WANT to talk about climate change : ).

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 6, 2009 9:31 AM    Report this comment


I am in a partnership with 4 others in a 42 year old Mooney. How many people co-own and drive a 42 year old car?

Sharing an airplane is a great way to get more people into flying for less money. With 5 guys sharing a plane we have much lower impact than 5 separate aircraft. With a web based scheduling system using the plane is pretty much hassle free.

Those of you thinking of selling your plane because of the costs should consider partnerships.

Ric Lee

Posted by: Ric Lee | July 6, 2009 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Mike H: The point of the blog really was simply to note that it's good to see lots of new ideas and technologies in the GA news that show people are looking for alternatives to fossil fuels for powering our airplanes.

And the other point I tried to make (as noted above) is that using our "stuff", whatever it is, more efficiently also has a positive environmental effect, as well as an economic one.

"Environmental impact" is not restricted to the emission of CO2 -- inefficient mining, manufacturing, and transportation systems have all kinds of impacts such as releasing toxins into waterways, eroding soils, polluting the air, depleting fisheries and other resources, etc etc etc.

And finally, the last point, which I wasn't really trying to make but was trying to avoid, is that the whole global warming debate is really beside the point. Even if fossil fuel emissions have no impact whatsoever on our climate, there is no question at all that they pollute the air and are harmful to human health.

As for jobs, seems to me that being more efficient in our use of resources and also finding innovative ways to meet the needs of more people (getting more people flying) is a good thing for economic growth.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Good stuff, Mary. I'm all for clean and efficient. I'd much rather ride behind a late '80s and up vehicle than a poorly tuned '70s or older one, as an example. But is there anything that even comes close to doing what we can with fossil-based power? Often the green solutions are not, and seem to be a step backwards.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 6, 2009 10:18 AM    Report this comment

No, the green solutions still have a long way to go, for sure. But you have to start somewhere.

Some of the small sport aircraft that are experimenting with electric power seem to do everything their pilots want them to do, and with lots of advantages over gas engines -- less noise, less vibration, and a nicer ride.

The airlines are working hard to find biofuels that will perform as well as fossil fuels, and they've made progress. And they are doing that not because they want to pollute less, but because they would love to have a fuel source that is cheap and plentiful and less volatile price-wise. (Some of these biofuels carry their own environmental impact issues, but the newer generation is better than the last one, and I expect that will continue to improve).

So, no, I don't expect that we can do without fossil fuels anytime soon. But I do expect that 100 years from now, our descendants won't be depending on fossil fuels as their main source of energy. What we're seeing today is like the Wright Brothers era. I reckon folks back then said, sure it's a cute flying thing, but I'll keep my horse and wagon.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 10:40 AM    Report this comment

No Mary, I don't think we can avoid arguing about global warming, and I don't see how you could have failed to foresee this argument as a natural outgrowth of your article. Nothing is a more divisive subject than global warming. This causes me to wonder what you were thinking when you wrote this piece. You think I “have to start somewhere”? By legitimizing a path for the environmental extremist crowd to link aviation emissions to global warming, you have now turned the half of us who are “true believers” into rabid anti-aviation lobbyists. Killing aviation won't stop global warming (or the next ice age), but some of us would evidently feel better about it if aviation was no longer there to blame.

Now that my income is half of what it was in 2001, and my investments are all in a death spin, the idea of joining another flying club is way out of my reach financially, even with affordable fossil fuels. So, Mary, it looks like I am going to remain a whole lot more “green” than you are. Maybe you should follow my example?

As long as people are so risk averse that they demand the uncompromising ultimate in “clean and safe”, flying – in any form - will become and remain both politically and economically unsustainable. It won't matter if the next ice age starts tomorrow, or in 500 years: Flying will have turned out to be only a passing fad. Congratulations, Mary. Maybe we can all sing Kumbyah while we freeze in the dark - on the ground.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | July 6, 2009 12:03 PM    Report this comment

Hi Mary

When I was 15 years old back in the early 60's, SCIENTISTs were telling us mortals how at any minute we may no longer exist if there was a political decision to "Push the button". A few years later we were told that humans are causing a new ice age. I went to work for a Bank and found out that it was actually a financial decision that would send us to oblivion.

The global financial institutions need to keep the population believing that there is an urgent issue that needs to be rectified (ask youself why only project that are out to prove the global warming issue is real are financed). They need something to spend your money on don't they (and really you need to read 1984). My main concern is pollution and lets start with the seas where approximately 70% of our oxygen comes from without which we would no longer survive as a race.

Lastly the real problem we face it that the fossil fuel is running out something predicted some 35 years ago. I believe this is the only time I can remember when Scientists got it right :-)

My advise stop worry about global warming the Earth has been changing since it was created and the only constant is change. We as humans should be starting to look at ways we can survive when the predictions appear and they surely will whatever we do. Trying to stop a bullet train with your bear hands is not an option

Sorry Mary I do some time ramble on but thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | July 6, 2009 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I dont see much new here. Shared aircraft ownership has been a reality for a lot of us for years. Not out of any "green" feelings, but out of economic necessity. I learned to fly in club aircraft. Then moved into partnership (with 9 other guys) on a 1947 Cessna 140. That worked amazingly well for such a large group and was sure cheap flying.

Now I am flying my homebuilt RV-4, another relatively inexpensive way to fly. None of these options are particularly green, but then flying somewhere between 50 and 100 hours a year, my contribution to the worlds greenhouse gases is not measurable.

And when I feel the need to go green I drag out my other aircraft - a glider! For those who fly just for fun and feel the need to go green I highly recommend it. I'd also point out that given the poor energy content of current battery technology when compared to gasoline, the only viable electric powered aircraft now and for some time to come are all electric powered gliders.

Posted by: Mike Wills | July 6, 2009 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Bruce L. and Bruce S: Thanks for your comments. But this is exactly why I tried to avoid talking about global warming -- because we *do* need to avoid arguing about it. It is too messy and complicated and inconclusive. And the bottom line is, whether you think it is a problem or not, we are still facing lots of other problems with fossil fuels that suggest it might be wise to be looking for alternatives.

It seems to me that if continue down the path of reckless consumption, waste, and rampant pollution and destruction of our natural resources (air, water, wildlife, etc), that also carries a risk that it could leave us freezing in the dark .... while aviators and manufacturers who are experimenting with new technologies and ideas just might be showing us a way forward -- and certainly aren't doing us any harm.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 2:45 PM    Report this comment

Lemme see here, I have a grenade around here somewhere in my desk drawer...there it is...pull pin, roll under door.

The thing is, we are deluding ourselves if we think aviation in any form isn't contributing to green house gas emissions. The power to charge those electric airplanes has to come from somewhere and coal-fired powerplants are among the biggest contributors to GHG emissions. NextGen nuclear could help, but good luck getting those built.

I don't have a solution. I just don't. The only weak excuse is that in its totality, general aviation isn't much of a factor in GHG--too few of us, too little fuel burned. If you're an aircraft owner and you calculate your own carbon footprint, you'll be appalled.

As for climate change doubters, they sometimes remind me of pols whining about unfavorable press coverage. There's vast good science on this topic, much of it readily available. Read it and you can decide for yourself. At least that might put the volcano fallacy to rest.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 6, 2009 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Mary I do have a problem expressing myself especially when limited to number of characters

You are right we do tend to argue about irrelative issues like GW but as an Engineer I know that in engineering terms if the problem is well defined then the solution is at hand

The electric planes in development have many problems and we do hope the developers will overcome those issues. The question is will it be before we run out of oil?

If you want to get people out of their cars then give them a good alternative (not public transport) and the same goes for flying. The car (and plane) gives me freedom to move when and where I want to

My problem with shared aircraft is the lack of freedom that one has when the plane is owned by you. I was a part owner of an aircraft with a share group but decided it was not for me when I discovered that the majority of the pilots were looking for cheap fly at any cost including safety. Sorry I want to live a little longer and safety must come first

If you want cheaper flying try microlighting, they are cheap, great fun and run on fumes. Gliding is very good especially when there is a small electric motor and prop on them suggests this could be an answer, especially if sola panels are fitted and the prop used to generate power when not needed for climbing. This will not give you the ability to dash across the country to have a lunch miles away from your home but will get you up to be in awe of what God created for us mortals

Posted by: Bruce Savage | July 6, 2009 3:49 PM    Report this comment

I advocated gliders as a green means of flying if all you are after is the joy of flying. I also mentioned that gliders are currently the only practical application for electric power in aviation. Thats not entirely true - its not that practical for gliders either. Electric power for self launch gliders grew out of a need to address noise pollution issues, not emissions issues. Electric power does work for self launching a glider with adequate power at the expense of some weight. But an electric powered self launcher will add significant purchase cost over a gas engine. The savings in fuel costs are offset by the replacement costs of batteries. And the only commonly available battery technology that is suitable is Lithium Polymer. Any one with RC electric experience will tell you about safety issues associated with LiPoly.

In my opinion electric power is a novelty. Makes good press coverage but little sense at this point.

Posted by: Mike Wills | July 6, 2009 4:27 PM    Report this comment

Two simple points on the climate change thing:

1) We ("man") can mess some things up, but regardless of whether that extends to temperature, sea levels, etc., the earth has had some serious change that we didn't do, has it not?

2) If there has been major natural change, what makes right now the ideal conditions that we must (attempt to) preserve in perpetuity at all costs?

The danger, Mary, might lie in the loss of liberty over a false alarm, and being forced back 100yrs in transportation capability through mandate (i.e., EVERYONE will drive a toadstool with wheels, etc., and not just those who choose to). It's not progress we're naysaying, but a perceived negative progress.

A relevant consideration regarding the points made against the fossil fuels (with which I'm neither agreeing or disagreeing), is how do those points stack up against the positives that oil-based transportation machinery has brought? Do any negatives actually outweigh the benefits? Moot if there's a better way, but if there isn't...

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 6, 2009 6:43 PM    Report this comment

Mike, regarding 1) and 2) I will repeat, the only position I have taken or will take here on global warming/climate change is that it is irrelevant to this discussion. I don't see any point in us trying to dissect 20+ years of debate, and I doubt very much that it would change anyone's mind if we did.

Also I am not advocating that anybody should be forced to do anything.

All I am really saying is Wow, it's great that we are trying new stuff.

Posted by: Mary Grady | July 6, 2009 7:18 PM    Report this comment

I feel pretty "green" about my airplane taking me places at 35 mpg. I find it bizarre that the enviros have caused me to use leaded fuel when my engine prefers unleaded gasoline. I can't even use gas-station fuel because my state, California, requires alcohol to be added. I have an antique bi-plane also that was built for unleaded fuel....same problem.

Interesting that the alcohol causes more CO2 emissions for the same energy. This whole environmental movement is counter-productive.

Posted by: Bruce McElhoe | July 6, 2009 8:36 PM    Report this comment

Very interesting topic; a little tough to divorce it from the politics of it. The extreme positions and/or varying worldviews that are out there (not necessarily in these comments) bring that aspect quickly to mind. Responsible progress certainly sounds like reasonable stuff, IMO.

Now if there's a green deal out there where you borrow the plane and fly it for the price of the fuel...

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | July 6, 2009 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Mary: “All I am really saying is Wow, it's great that we are trying new stuff. ”

If that's all you wanted to say, why didn't you just stop there? I would have agreed with you. But in your original article, you brought up GW. You went on a diatribe about the evils of fossil fuel, demonizing it with little or no support for your claims, and no proposed solutions (except for flying clubs and impractical electric planes).

Sure, I'm all for research, and all for progress, and have no issues with clean. I do have major issues with someone who sounds very impatient and intolerant, and doesn't appear to care if we throw the baby out with the bathwater, apparently willing to be ground-bound while we wait for an attractive alternative that is not even remotely likely to come in our lifetime.

Elemental Hydrogen is only a carrier of chemical energy, and is not a resource that we can mine. Electricity is not an energy source, but merely a form of energy which must be converted from other forms, and once converted is particularly difficult to store, especially in small lightweight systems.

If you want to preach the gospel of Greenpeace, you should do two things: Learn a lot more about science, and then pick on a less vulnerable minority, NOT general aviation. Since you haven't noticed, general aviation has quite enough problems, without tree-huggers chaining our props in the name of pristine green.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | July 7, 2009 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Hey Bruce, who brought Green Peace into this?

Mary mentioned global warming, many of you made it the focal point.

I took away from this article nothing that led me to believe Mary is advocating major regulations. I didn't get the impression that Mary is a "raving environmentalist".

And the way some of you have gone off on Mary, I wouldn't be surprised if you would have had a ton to say even if all she had said was "All I am really saying is Wow, it's great that we are trying new stuff."

Posted by: steve egolf | July 8, 2009 6:30 AM    Report this comment

Many of the "new" forms of energy require materials with complicated "needs" in terms of resources and manufacturing...and these products are not always good -particularly so at the end of product life. Sharing is good but perhaps against the territorialism of mankind. Electric aircraft are nice, but still require energy at the plug-in point and that energy has to come from somewhere. Nuclear seems clean, but is potentially dangerous and we must dispose of the "spent" fuel. We can go on and on about this. It is important that we try new approaches that are greener. We will soon run out of oil and perhaps that is a "good" thing for the environment -as well as the creativity of mankind. The biggest problems today are to be found with the governmental-industrial-military complex and the sheepherding instinct of the public when confronted with the power of nightmares -be they real, contrived or imagined. How one can educate "professional" politicians is beyond me. Fix the politicians and you fix the world. In particular we need to avoid the "professional" politicians. We have the intelligence and brains to overcome all the technological hurdles and we must try new approaches...the solutions are quite liable to come from "little" groups of people who are quietly working away on projects that the aforementioned complex would like to hide.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | July 8, 2009 9:44 AM    Report this comment

It is very difficult to beat the high energy densities of fossil fuels but I think most people are in agreement that outside of the GW debate, being held hostage by the oil producing nations is not an option we should continue to pursue nor leave the consequences to our basic health through the polluted air we breath, unchallenged. The 1978 Lockheed study on liquid hydrogen powered aircraft concluded that liquid H2 was an ideal aircraft fuel in almost all respects. Liquid H2 has 3 times the energy density of kerosene per unit mass. More recently, The BMW company has produced a high performance LH2 auto with an almost indestructable fuel tank. Germany is also providing the refueling infrastructure needed. Even with the energy costs to liquify H2,IMO,this is a viable alternative since the liquifaction energy can come from renewables as well. Remember when we compare fuel costs we are talking about comparing a fuel source (oil) whose production has been heavily subsidized by our governments for many decades with a relatively non-government subsidized renewable fuel source when you compare dollars to dollars. Government subsidy is good to get the needed infrastructure in place, but fuel production should be self-sustaining after that. the internal combustion engine has been refined to a high degree and could utilize LH2 quite easily without adding to the pollution problem. We just need the political will to do this.

Posted by: Ray Richards | July 8, 2009 10:50 AM    Report this comment

The whole issue of whether "Going Green" is the right thing to do is academic. Most people will go green when it is dramatically cheaper to do so. Right now, fossil fuels are the cheapest per BTU, especially coal. How many people will drive many miles to buy something "On Sale" just to save a few bucks. How many people on the planet still read by the light of an oil lamp. (hundreds of millions). As for aviation, driving is cheaper, and/or more convenient than flying, or going by train. When fossil fuels start to run out, it will drive up the price, and people will switch. Those people that say they know what's best for us, have tried to regulate things like smoking, drugs, racism, food, war, etc. Despite their best intentions, these things are still with us. Just let the free market decide, since it will anyways, whether you like it or not.

Posted by: Craig Hoaglund | July 8, 2009 3:54 PM    Report this comment

Great article Mary. Ignore the flak.

Posted by: Bob Dinkins | July 9, 2009 7:41 AM    Report this comment

The Earth's surface IS warmer. The ice IS melting. Weather IS changing location. There IS only ONE cause;-BODY HEAT-! Now, let's start to fix the RESULTS of that effect.

Posted by: Larry Fries | July 9, 2009 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Having just sold my T-210 due to higher and higher insurance rates as a result of reaching the age of 76, I have a rough time agreeing with Al Gore and his global warming theory. Private aircraft is a great way to travel. I used my T-210 for business and pleasure. I miss it and now must subject myself to giant people mailer tubes and all the homeland security checks that one has to go through to get on board.(the terrorist have won and Homeland security has the private air travel in their sights with more stupid rules for small aircraft.) Our rights to fly are being eroided along with all others that we have enjoyed in the past.

Posted by: Bob Shuster | July 9, 2009 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Frankly - I don't care, I fly because I love it. I don't care how many mpg I get, I don't care about the emissions I produce. I don't care that I am using steel and aluminium dug from our precious earth to build my airplanes and I don't care to share my airplane with anyone. I don't care to limit my enjoyment of my life on the basis of political correctness. I am not a gross polluter of the world either. I don't pour old engine oil down the drain or dig giant coal pits in my back yard. In fact I am making the greatest possible contribution to the well-being of the planet anyone of us can make: I choose not to breed. The planet is FULL. Has been for centuries. Nothing you can do as far as being "green" goes is as effective as not putting even more people on this planet. Certainly not worrying about the effect of a few small airplanes. We can all put P&W 9855s on our 'light' airplanes and belch 130 octane fumes into the sky and it wouldn't make a speck of difference. IF there are just a few of us. Everyone in the world is ignoring this most basic root of all this planet's problems. It's not talked about, like cousin Jeb who is a bit funny in the head....

Our type of flying has to be so far on the bottom of the list of this planet's problems it's laughable to worry about its global effect. It's like running around trying to cure the runny nose of the guy dying of cancer.

Posted by: Peter Thomas | July 9, 2009 10:51 AM    Report this comment

I will go as green as I can just to save some oil. Oil will soon cost much more and I won't be able to afford it. We can solve the population problem. Just sterilize one generation of the young in EVERY country.

There is no solution to the oil problem if that solution is based on continued use of oil, including the oblique use of oil to produce a different form of energy. Oil from coal is still oil. Hydrogen derived from gasoline is still oil. We need something different, and we need to make other things that we use daily, without the products being based on oil. Almost everything we use is based on the petrochemical industry. Green aeroplanes, green cars etc. are just a start on the long road to a better world. We have a long way to go. The present world (and its jobs and the associated vast infrastructures) will not easily succumb to the needed green approaches.

The simple green approaches now in place are good, but more is needed. As my friend said, trying to fix the runny nose of the guy dying of cancer is not a solution. We have to deal with fundamental change on a vast scale...without the shell games, smoke, mirrors, etc. which are now abundantly in play.

Vested interests (including government) will not move to make changes unless they can control matters as they unfold - and gain power and money in the process.

Follow the money. Show that there is real money (and jobs) in the green future and we will soon (really soon) have the needed changes.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | July 9, 2009 2:35 PM    Report this comment

With stunning self-unawareness, how fortuitous that Mr. Thomas's parents chose to 'breed' and experience the higher-than-any-flight joy of having a child that he will never, ever come close to in a metal flying machine- tho delusion can be a comfortable substitute. Who are you people? With this level of anger in some of you, keep away from me in the air - I don't use anger and I blame no one or nothing, not gov't or anyone, for anything in my life. This self-absorbed chest pounding of false independence (yes, machisimo is needed and used when true independence has yet to be attained) that too many espouse in aviation is getting really tiring. Next, are you I-am-so-unbelievable and Right! pilots going to tell everyone that Sarah Palin is thoughtful and perceptive? Mary, I thank you for the blog if anything to remind me of the utter lack of understanding with many in aviation about sharing the planet with others, having a respect and reverence for All Life - whether our carbon footprint is large or small - despite one's incredible, unbelievable personage as the greatest pilot in creation. Yes, I'm a pilot too, but flying always seems to enhance a growing awe and respect for this world and creation in me. For those who see only themselves in life, please try and keep your anger and ignorance on the ground and out of the sky. Thank you

Posted by: Dave Miller | July 9, 2009 2:44 PM    Report this comment

When flying, I too am in awe of the beauty of the planet. I am also in awe of the vast, ever increasing swathes of land being covered with houses, shopping malls and roads to accommodate our ever increasing population. (Frequently devouring small airports in the process.) Anger? Yes, it makes me angry that people ignore this most basic problem of the human condition and then spend vast amounts of energy and effort worrying those damned pesky airplanes or plastic water bottles or spotted owls. If people choose to have more than one child in this day and age, it is affecting my life and everyone else's. With any other species on the planet, overpopulation takes care of itself eventually, but humans have become far too clever for that to happen. By the way, when my parents chose to have children there were about 2 billion less people on this planet.

When is it politically correct to point out that this is the basic problem of the planet and not airplanes or anything else?

Posted by: Peter Thomas | July 9, 2009 3:01 PM    Report this comment

Well done Peter Thomas!

I will say that we need to worry about plastic bags and spotted owels etc. HUGE areas of the oceans are now dead (devoid of life). If the oceans die we die.

Other than bacteria/viruses, we are the most successful of all species on this little its peril.

It is the spectre of economic man that leads us to the source of our problems. We do have perhaps too many people...but we want cheap labour, we want markets etc.

Mostly, man delights in having power.

Follow the money and find ways to make BIG money from "green" and we will have a greener world.

The aeroplanes will be delightful if we do it right! In the greener aeroplanes of today we have but the faintest view of the strong, delightful machines that could await us in the future.

Fly on!

Posted by: Charles Elliot | July 9, 2009 6:32 PM    Report this comment

I guess I have met a few thinkers today. Sadly though, there are stinkers who would soil the water because it gives them spiritual gratification. So now no matter how hard we try to keep water clean they will be on a mission from "God" to spoil it. So it goes. I am in awe with the power of ego and ignorance.

Posted by: Larry Fries | July 9, 2009 8:36 PM    Report this comment

The question of what we can do to go green. As many have alluded, green can mean many things. Let’s think of some short term things we can do to make a difference with GA?

Get the lead out! I know we are a small producer but aviation is the only users of lead fuel additive. If we can’t remove it for the whole fleet, can we at least go unleaded for the 70% of the fleet that can?

Modernize the fleet! With engines getting overhauled every 2000 hours, can we agree that carburetors are a thing of the past? We can reduce our total fuel consumption and pollution by at least 10% if we actually used modern technologies in our aircraft. If we all went to injection it would be affordable.

Mondernize naviagation! If GPS was good enough for Alaska, it should be good enough for the lower 48. Flying direct will get use another 5%. It costs over $300,000,000 annually to maintain this equipment. That over $1363 for each registered GA aircraft in the United States. Can’t we just issue GPS to every registered aircraft and move on? I bet if we put out a contract that guaranteed a sale of 220,000 IFR installed GPS, we could get them done for about $2500. That’s a 2 year payback.

Lets do what we can now!

Posted by: Bruce Billedeaux | July 11, 2009 11:00 PM    Report this comment

I would love to see more Diesel aircraft engines - if we have engines that use 10%-25% less fuel it means I can afford to fly 10%-25% more and I most certainly would. The net environmental effect of my lower specific fuel consumption would be zero. And if GPS enables me to fly direct, yes I can spend less time in the air. But I fly to spend as much time in the air as I can afford! There really is no way on earth you can justify flying for fun to the environmentalists. (I use the word "fun" loosely, the satisfaction I derive from flying goes far beyond that mere term.) Everything from building the airplane in the first place to operating it to disposing of it has an "environmental impact" and since it is just for "fun" , it's unjustifiable in an ecological sense. None of us really "need" to fly, do we?

It all comes back to my point of: let's fix the BIG problems before we start worrying about the ones on the bottom of the list.

Posted by: Peter Thomas | July 12, 2009 12:31 AM    Report this comment

Big problems are never fixed all at once, all solutions are incremental. For us that fly for fun everything I suggested doesnt matter, but for the vast majority of flying these suggestions can have a real impact. The idea here is to do what we can, when we do we can morally exspect other to do the same. The stance, "hey I am a little problem, you are the big problem" will only make us unpopular. Thats the same issue we had with hightway litter. Social conventions have changed and its much better on the nations highways. All I say is lets do what we can no matter how little is actually reduces our carbon footprint. In a democracy where the majority are not pilots, this can really cause problems for us who love to fly. Unfortunatly like drivining, flying is not a right, but a privlege, so we are beholden to the majority.

Posted by: Bruce Billedeaux | July 12, 2009 1:53 PM    Report this comment

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