Airplane Landings Are About to Get Smoother in an Effort to Cut Emissions

by Taylor Cunningham
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The Federal Aviation Administration is hoping to cut airplane emissions by changing the way that major jetliners land.

When most planes land, they descend using what is called a stair-step method. Meaning, they continuously level off and power up the engines. And while doing so, they burn excess fuel.

But now, the FAA is suggesting that planes should instead descend to the runway at a cruising altitude while the engines are set at near idle.

“If you just think about what takes more energy, walking down the stairs or sliding down a slide, that’s basically what the plane is doing,” FAA spokesperson Matthew Lehner explained in an interview with ABC News.

The new 42 Optimized Profile Descents—or OPDs—is part of the FAA’s effort to reach a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions aviation sector by 2050.

“There’s less fuel burn as you’re sliding down toward the approach to the airport,” Lehner continued. “It also means with less fuel burning you get less emissions in the air.”

The Optimized Airplane Landings will Help the U.S. Achieve Net-Zero Aviation Emissions

In 2013, the FAA and the Georgia Institute of Technology tested OPDs at the Los Angeles International Airport. And they found that the method eliminated around 41 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. It also cut 2 million gallons of jet fuel. That’s comparable to removing 1,300 flights from Atlanta to Dallas, according to the FAA.

“When we multiply the impact by thousands of flights, we gain real fuel savings and real environmental benefits,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

Last year, the FAA began to use OPDs at a few major airports around the country. Some of those locations included Miami International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and Florida’s Orlando International Airport.

This year, the agency will implement the method at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport, and Omaha, Nebraska’s Eppley Airfield.

The optimized landings will also make for a more pleasant experience for passengers. Because aside from reducing emissions, the planes will also have much smoother landings. And because the jets‘ engines won’t be constantly revving, the airports will produce less noise pollution.

The move is part of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan. As part of that plan, the FAA also announced over $100 million in matching grants to increase aircraft efficiency and develop new software to help reduce taxi delays. In addition, the money will also go towards further reducing aircraft noise and emissions using other methods.

The White House also joined the effort by announcing a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to produce at least three billion gallons of sustainable jet fuel every year by 2030.

Outsider.com