With electric flying against climate change

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Slovenian Pipistrel is perhaps not the best-known player in the industry, yet he has already put many things on the table and won several awards with his innovations. The pioneer of eco-friendly aviation built the world’s first two-seater electric aircraft in 2007. Also to their name is the first purely electric aircraft, the Alpha Electro, that earned a U.S. Airworthiness Authority certificate of airworthiness in 2018. The two-seater plane, which is worth about $ 130,000, can thus be flown for about an hour and a half without the use of fossil fuels, if we do not take into account whether or not the system was using electricity from a renewable source.

Another Pipistrel model, the Velis Electro, became the first electric-powered aircraft to receive a certificate of airworthiness from the EU aviation authority in June 2020. Recognition also means that the experts consider the model to be completely safe and suitable for mass production. Although the company name is practically synonymous with breakthroughs, Pipistrel is still just one of the aircraft manufacturers working for environmentally friendly (bb) aviation. Quartz issued an overview of these attempts, based on which we are also getting closer and closer to the rise of partially or fully electric aircraft in air passenger transport as well.

The year 2020 alone promised a number of innovations: electric machines set a new distance record, successfully copying the routes of individual commercial flights, attracting the attention of several major airlines. The six-seater hybrid of the Los Angeles Ampaire, for example, successfully completed a five hundred and fifty-mile trip, breaking a new distance record. Ampaire is also currently testing to launch commercial flights between Hawaii’s small airports. Eviation is already on more than one hundred and fifty orders for its nine-seater electric aircraft, while Wright Electric is developing one hundred and eighty-six passenger aircraft for EasyJet by the 2030 deadline. Archer Aviation promises to reform urban transport with four-seater air taxis. According to the company, the world’s first purely electric-powered fleet will be operational in 2021. Speakers of the article almost unanimously claim that electric or hybrid machines could appear in passenger traffic within a few years (Pipistrel machines are currently used for education).

UBS Investment Bank estimates that twenty-five percent of air traffic will be hybrid or purely electric by 2035. This is a significant step forward in many ways, but mostly because we individually do the most damage to the Earth’s atmosphere by traveling long distances by plane. More than two percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent, which cause climate change, come from aviation, which is likely to increase significantly in the future, with passenger numbers doubling by 2035. Electric machines with fewer components, requiring minimal maintenance and expected to be much more economical to operate, may first be used on shorter distances. With electric machines, airlines can open up new, shorter-distance roads that can be more competitive than rail and road transport.

There are plenty of factors to consider before you travel if you want to take individual action against climate change. It is true that although the question is specific, it is so complex that it is difficult to reveal general truths. It is enough to think about how many differences there are in the consumption and utilization of a car, bus, train or plane, that is, it is a serious task in itself to calculate world averages. In addition, averages may mask significant differences. Although there can sometimes be quite large differences between the results of studies, the conclusions are basically one-way, and some aspects are especially worth considering when planning your next trip.

The most cited study on the subject is a 2014 study by the European Environment Agency, which found, among other things, that flying is by far the most harmful and train the most environmentally friendly form of travel. In the report, they took the average European utilization as the basis for their calculations, which in turn can significantly distort one way or another. Furthermore, the calculation does not take into account the difference between the emissions of, for example, an electric train and a diesel train. In addition, electricity can be produced from renewable sources or in a coal-fired power plant. The significance of this is addressed in the National Geographic article, which illustrates the example of travel between Toronto and New York.

This shows that per capita CO2 emissions are also higher for trains and high-consumption SUVs than for airplanes. According to the authors, this is possible for two reasons. On the one hand, diesel trains run on that particular line instead of electricity. On the other hand, it is regularly omitted from general comparisons that we get to the destination by a greater distance by train or car than by plane. This is a particularly significant difference on the Toronto-New York route. While we are talking about about five hundred and seventy kilometers by plane, it is thirty-four percent longer by road and sixty-five percent longer by rail. That is, a total of eight hundred and seventy-five kilometers. Added to this is the fact that when driving a car, the vehicle is not only used for long-distance travel, where its emissions are relatively low. In a traffic jam, for example, a car’s CO2 emissions increase by two and a half times, and air conditioning, which is also missing from models, can increase that by as much as twenty percent.

In addition, according to an article in National Geographic, the fact that its efficiency has increased the most in recent decades also supports aviation. Thanks to less-consuming engines, aerodynamic improvements, and lighter components, per capita flight efficiency improved by one hundred and sixty-two percent between 1975 and 2016. This is one hundred and twelve percent for cars, sixty-seven for trains and thirty-three percent for buses. While another 2015 U.S. study discusses that driving used to be actually much more energy efficient than flying — primarily — this has changed, primarily due to the proliferation of low-cost carriers. Today, flying is significantly more efficient, and the gap is growing significantly year by year. An argument in favor of aviation could also be research that also takes into account the whole life cycle of means of transport and the construction of infrastructure. Including these, greenhouse gas emissions will increase by one hundred and fifty-five percent for rail transport, by sixty-three percent for roads, and by thirty-one percent for flights that do not require runway construction.

However, there are still two important aspects that have been left out so far Namely, the fact that the studies are based solely on CO2 emissions, which is indeed the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is not the only one. Other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide, multiply the harmful effects of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions in the air have a much more lasting effect on Earth because there are no trees or seas to bind. Recent research suggests that flying is actually much more harmful to the environment than previously thought. While aviation is responsible for roughly two percent of total CO2 emissions, it can contribute roughly five percent to climate change due to other greenhouse gases and air pollution. In addition, aviation is developing most dynamically among the main emitting sectors, with the European Parliament saying that by 2050 its current 2% CO2 emissions rate could rise to twenty-two percent. In addition to this growth, the main reason is that, unlike other sectors such as the automotive industry, there is no new technology that would drastically reduce its emissions.

Most online travel calculators ignore other pollutants besides carbon dioxide, with few exceptions confirmed by the Swedish website Travel & Climate. That is, the calculator shows more shocking numbers accordingly. A round trip from Paris to London emits four hundred and seventy-two kilograms of pollutants per capita, which is four times more than if we were to take the same trip by bus or train. Let’s not forget here, however, that calculators are based on averages. According to this, on the London-Paris route, planes are three times more polluting than trains, while in reality Eurostar, which flies between the two cities, says it has ninety percent lower emissions than the plane. Perhaps most interesting, however, is that shipping is a much more harmful form of travel than flying, as even the most efficient ocean liners emit (per capita) three to four times their flight. Not to mention that because of this, air quality on huge vehicles is also below criticism. So much so that, according to a study, the air in these ships rivals the air in the most polluted cities in the world.

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