Waypoints

The greening of GA

November 1, 2007

Editor in chief Thomas B. Haines owns a well-tuned Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

Cessna is reporting an $11 billion backlog of sales as of August 31, and, with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention and AOPA Expo occurring since then, you can bet they've racked up additional orders. Other business aircraft manufacturers are reporting difficulty in building aircraft fast enough to meet the demand. Very light jet manufacturers scramble to ramp up production to meet backlogs that number in the thousands.

You might say the turbine end of general aviation is awash in green—the money kind of green.

You might also say that aviation is awash in green—the environmental kind of green.

The "green revolution" that started in Europe is sweeping the globe. Aviation is not standing by watching. Some European countries are starting to mandate that airlines (as well as factories that emit smoke) offset the amount of carbon they release into the atmosphere by funding projects that help reduce or absorb carbon in other ways. Carbon particles in the air are considered a primary factor in global warming.

Of course, the notion of global warming is itself controversial. After decades of debate, though, evidence is becoming ever more compelling that the activities of the human race are affecting the planet's environment.

The most common way that aviation users are working to improve the environment is through the purchase of "carbon offsets." Typically, aviation users pay a small fee per gallon of fuel burned to a company or organization that then funds efforts to offset the impact of the carbon dioxide released during the flight. Carbon Neutral Plane, for example, charges about five cents per gallon of fuel burned to certify that the aircraft is "carbon neutral." In other words, 100 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by the aircraft has been offset through the purchase of carbon offsets. Basically, the payments are used to fund projects such as wind or solar electricity generation. Electricity generated by wind and solar sources does not pollute the way a similar quantity of electricity generated through burning fossil fuels would.

Most funding from the purchase of carbon offsets is used to support renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar, and increasing energy efficiency, such as better insulation in homes and businesses and increased fuel economy in vehicles. According to one carbon offset group, ClimateCare, only five percent of its funding is used for forest restoration projects. Trees are major absorbers of carbon dioxide, so the planting of trees is considered important in improving air quality.

Of course, the whole concept of buying carbon offsets is not without its pundits. Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University wrote a piece for USA Today recently suggesting that if we can buy carbon offsets for our environmental missteps, we should also be able buy them for our other sins. One of his suggestions was the Pilates Offset. Those who feel bad about that whole American obesity thing can feel better about not going to the gym by purchasing Pilates Offsets from the gym. Those who like going to the gym would receive free or reduced membership to exercise on behalf of those who would rather sit in front of the television. "Their increased buffness would neutralize your expanding waistline, and you would be 'fat neutral,'" wrote Schweizer.

General aviation goes green

Several companies at the NBAA convention touted the "greenness" of their operations. Bombardier, maker of the popular Learjet and Challenger lines of business jets, for example, announced that beginning early next year, the cost to offset one year's average carbon emissions from the aircraft will be included in the aircraft purchase price. Bombardier has partnered with ClimateCare to purchase the offsets for its customers. In addition, Bombardier has puts its corporate fleet into the ClimateCare program, an annual investment of about $250,000.

Eclipse Aviation, which produces the Eclipse 500 VLJ, dedicated much of its NBAA press conference to discussing the subject. The company challenged others to take its Eclipse 500 Green Factor test. The test asks eight questions about an aircraft to determine its impact on the environment. Not surprisingly, the Eclipse 500 scores well in the test—winning 30 out of a possible 30 points. Among the questions is about fuel efficiency. An airplane that can fly more than 800 nautical miles on 1,000 pounds of jet fuel (148 gallons) scores a maximum of 10 points. Because of the 500's highly fuel-efficient Pratt & Whitney engines, it scores 10 points on that question. Those that can fly only 600 to 800 nm on 1,000 pounds of fuel score eight points, and so on.

Other questions on the Eclipse quiz are around emissions, noise pollution, hazardous material use, and recylability. The 500's quiet engines, use of Eclipse's patented and environmentally friendly PhostrEx fire suppression system, and the recylability of the 500's aluminum airframe all contribute to its high scores on the questions.

Peter Bunce, the president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, reminded NBAA attendees that with the rising costs of fuel, it is in everyone's best interest to reduce fuel burn. The addition of winglets to many jet airframes helps improve fuel efficiency by an average of 3 percent, he said. Modern high bypass turbine engines are dramatically more fuel-efficient than engines of just a few years ago. New flight procedures and sophisticated avionics suites also help reduce fuel burns. Among them is required navigation performance (RNP), a type of navigation system that uses four-dimensional navigation (3-D plus time) to coordinate arrivals and allows jets to descend from altitude into the terminal environment and to the runway with their engines at idle—reducing total fuel burn and noise. Look for such procedures and equipment to ultimately find its way into the cockpits of lighter GA aircraft.

What can you do?

You might think that's terrific for the turbine crowd, but what can you do in your light piston airplane to reduce your carbon foot print and have less impact on the environment?

Fly efficiently. Lean the mixture aggressively while taxiing. At such low power settings, you won't hurt the engine.

If it's approved for your engine and if you have an engine analyzer on board and the knowledge of how to do so correctly, fly lean of peak exhaust gas temperature. You will reduce your fuel burn significantly with only a minimal reduction in performance.

Consider the purchase of a tuned exhaust and tuned induction system if it is available for your airplane. Both will allow you to either extract more power from the engine or to get the same power on less fuel burn. See our article from the September 2006 issue on flying efficiently (" Facing Down Fuel Costs").

Pour sumped fuel samples into approved containers or purchase a fuel strainer that allows you to pour the strained fuel back into the tanks.

Recycle your engine oil. Some FBOs have oil recycling facilities.

Noise is a pollution too, so fly as quietly as possible. In the Search window on AOPA Online enter the words "fly neighborly" for tips on flying quietly. Flying behind a three- or four-blade propeller rather than a two-blade and cruising at a higher manifold pressure setting and a lower rpm will make your airplane quieter inside and out.

Promote and protect your airport. AOPA's Airport Support Network and Airport Watch program are two ways that you can help protect your airport. Airports, especially GA airports, represent vast areas of open space. On a per-square-foot basis, airports are low users of electricity, they don't trap much heat—a contributor to thermal pollution, and they reduce visual pollution in the form of smokestacks or high rises.

Finally, consider buying carbon offsets from organizations such as Carbon Neutral Plane or CimateCare. The green initiative is only going to grow and it is important that GA be seen as an engaged, educated participant rather than a stalwart.

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.