5 surprising ways that planes are greener than ever

The aviation industry is constantly innovating to reduce its CO2 emissions, cutting 15-20% with each new design. But unless you know where to look you’d never notice: here are five little-known ways that planes are changing before our eyes:

  • Lighter plane parts

    1. Lighter parts

    The lighter the plane, the less fuel it needs to take off and stay airborne, and even the smallest reductions in weight can make a huge difference to the environment impact of a flight. This is why the aviation industry is leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to make aircraft lighter than ever.

    Cutting-edge materials like carbon fibre composites are helping manufacturers to construct parts that are 20% lighter than the components they are replacing. The strength and weight of these ultra-high-tech materials means that they can be used all across the plane, from engine to wing tip, adding up to make a massive difference to environmental performance.

  • Aircraft engine

    2. More efficient engines

    Remarkable engineering breakthroughs, including everything from more efficient shapes, improved coatings, and stronger and lighter materials, mean that new engines like the P&W Geared Turbofan and proposed Rolls-Royce Ultrafan are much more efficient than their predecessors – meaning that they need less energy to generate the same amount of power.

  • wingtip devices winglets

    3. Smart retrofit measures

    Even simple design changes to existing planes can make a big difference to your flight’s carbon footprint. You may not have noticed them, but next time you fly, look out for the pointy devices on the end of the plane wing.

    These are known as wingtip devices or winglets, and, believe it or not, they’re playing an essential role in helping to cut emissions. Planes fitted with these devices are much more aerodynamic than those without, which helps make a big difference to emissions. Since 2000, retro-fitting winglets to existing planes has meant a staggering 80 million tonnes of CO2 has been avoided (the equivalent yearly emissions of almost 10 million households in the UK).

  • Airbus A350 XWB

    4. Efficient new designs

    Revolutionary new models like the Airbus A350 XWB and the upcoming Boeing 777X burn substantially less fuel than the models they’ve been built to replace. On average, these new planes consume less than 3 litres of fuel per 100 passenger kilometres. In other words, fuel use per passenger is comparable to that of a compact car for the same distance.

  • 5. Radical new innovations

    And the planes we fly on 20 years from now could look very different again. Plane manufacturers are working on some radical new designs that have the potential to significantly cut fuel burn – up to 27% in some cases – and the associated emissions that contribute to climate change. Blended wing-body designs, like those recently announced by Airbus, are set to ensure the future of aviation is environmentally sustainable.