Greener Airplanes, Bluer Skies
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.