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Fri 20 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Eco warriors

When it comes to environmental initiatives, it seems the aviation industry is leaving no stone unturned.

When it comes to environmental initiatives, it seems the aviation industry is leaving no stone unturned.

Fuel efficiency measures, route planning and biofuels are just a few items on the carbon cutting agenda, which aims to drastically reduce the 670 million tonnes of yearly emissions created by the industry.

According to Quentin Browell, assistant director for Aviation Environment at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), efficiency has improved by some 70% in the past 40 years, but there are still huge advances to be made.

The introduction of new aircraft has been a key factor in reducing carbon footprints across the business. While the average fuel efficiency for a modern fleet stands at approximately four litres per 100 passenger kilometres, the new Airbus A380s and Boeing Dreamliners have a fuel efficiency rate of under three litres per 100 passenger km.

So, for airlines able to afford a fleet update during turbulent economic times, adopting new aircraft may be the most practical way to save fuel and reduce emissions. While technical improvements have certainly aided airlines' ecological plight, IATA is keen to avoid a slip into complacency and has challenged manufacturers to develop the world's first ‘zero emissions' aircraft.

Meanwhile some carriers have begun pioneering the developing concept of biofuels. Made from recently deceased organisms such as pond scum, algae and even poisonous nuts, these new fuels are paving the way to a carbon free future.

Currently, while the properties of these products are still under investigation, test flights are operating successfully with a 50% mix of biofuel and kerosene.

Both Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic are among the biofuel guinea pigs, successfully running short test flights in recent months. At present, it is unclear whether these kerosene alternatives will be viable for long term sustainable use in aviation.

Lizzie Cernik is the assistant editor of Aviation Business.

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