Alaska Cuts Plane Emissions by 35 Pct with Smoother Landings

Alaska Cuts Plane Emissions by 35 Pct with Smoother Landings

Just over a year since Alaska Airlines began tests of a new emissions-reducing technology, the airline says it has achieved 35 percent reductions by reconfiguring how its planes descend for landing.

The results are the first to come out of the company's "Greener Skies" initiative, which began in June 2009. The tests involved the use of Required Navigation Performance, a technology that brings planes in for a steady, continuous descent rather than the current, step-by-step descent.

These "Optimized Profile Descents" allow jets to idle their engines for more of the descent, saving nearly 60 gallons of fuel per flight and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent.

RNP example

By incorporating RNP into its entire fleet, Alaska expects to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 22,000 metric tons per year, and save 2.1 million gallons of fuel.

The company began using RNP technology in the 1990s, not as a cost- and emissions-reducing measure, but as a way to land its planes at trickly Alaskan airfields. Although Alaska Airlines (NSYE:ALK) is the only fleet in the United States with RNP equipped on all its planes, once testing is completed later this year, it will share the technology with its sister airline, Horizon, which will be fully RNP-equipped by the end of 2011.

With an estimated carbon footprint of about 2 percent of the world's total emissions, the global airline industry has been working on its impact for some time. In addition to Alaska Airlines' Greener Skies program, the European Airline industry launched a "clean sky initiative" in 2007, and committed US$2.3 billion in funding in 2008. In 2009, the international aviation industry set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2020, and earlier this year the German government proposed an environmental tax on air travel aimed at cutting the greenhouse gas impacts of flying.

Photos courtesy of Alaska Airlines.