Aviation ranks highly in the list of innovations with a profound long-standing impact on human life. Since the Wright brothers took their inaugural flight in 1903, air travel has become an integral part of human activity, revolutionizing how we conduct business, visit loved ones and explore the world. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization,
aviation transports close to 2 billion passengers every year and 40% of interregional exports by value. Furthermore, the sector provides 29 million jobs globally, expected to grow to 38 million by 2037.
However, weighing down these undisputed successes is the sector's rapidly expanding carbon footprint. In addition to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and water vapor, airplanes also produce sulfur oxides and soot, which cause contrail cirrus clouds
and acid rain.
Fortunately, the aviation industry has become increasingly keen on mitigating its environmental impact, particularly by utilizing new-age technologies like the Internet of Things. This article expounds on aviation's contribution to climate change and how airlines can use IoT to boost flight sustainability.
The environmental impact of aviation
Air travel is a highly controversial topic in climate debates, primarily because of two reasons. The first is the mismatch between the sector's holistic climate impact and the number of regular airplane users relative to the global population.
While planes account for around 2.5%
of global carbon dioxide emissions, which adds up to 3.5% when non-CO₂ causes of global warming are included, only 11%
of the world's population use air transport at least once a year. Moreover, the most frequent fliers make up 1% of the population but contribute more than half
of the total emissions from air travel.
The second reason is how countries are held accountable for aviation emissions. Although emissions from domestic flights are included in the host nation's emission records, international flight emissions are addressed by international conventions in the "bunker fuels" category. This lack of individual accountability means countries have few incentives to make concrete steps towards reducing them.
Admittedly, aviation's contribution to climate change - 3.5% of global warming - is relatively small compared to heavy polluters like power or road transport. Nevertheless, while renewable energy and electric vehicle technologies are steadily advancing, the aviation industry has struggled to find viable solutions for tackling its carbon footprint head-on. Innovations like hydrogen fuel cells are promising, but it is unclear when, or even if, they will ever become available.
How can IoT help flights become more sustainable?
The road to sustainable aviation may be uncertain, but companies can still do something to squeeze out efficiencies for short-term gains as they invest in long-term improvements. One of the most promising tools for this job is the Internet of Things. With IoT solutions steadily becoming ubiquitous in everyday lives and industries, aviation has also opened up to the possibilities they offer, particularly regarding sustainability.
Read on for five intriguing ways IoT can help make air travel more sustainable.
1. Reducing aircraft weight
Aircraft weight is one of the most critical performance indicators for fuel efficiency. The less a plane weighs, the less fuel it needs to fly, and the smaller its carbon footprint.
IoT can play a role in reducing aircraft weight by providing real-time data on an aircraft's weight and distribution, which can then be used to make informed decisions on how to lighten the load. For example, if sensors show that the plane is carrying more cargo than necessary, the airline can adjust its loading process accordingly.
2. Improving aerodynamics
Drag is another major factor in fuel consumption. The more aerodynamic an aircraft is, the less fuel it needs to fly. Again, IoT can help by providing data that manufacturers can use to improve a plane's aerodynamic performance.
Connected sensors deployed around a plane can track the air pressure and temperature in real time. With this data, designers can better understand how air flows around the aircraft and develop better ways to reduce drag.
3. Enhancing maintenance
Modern planes are equipped with a myriad of sensors that collect data on the performance of every essential system. However, this data is often stored aboard the plane and only accessed after landing, giving operators an outdated picture of the aircraft's condition.
Connected IoT sensors can collect and transmit performance and maintenance data to the ground in real time, enabling maintenance teams to monitor aircraft proactively and identify even the smallest inefficiencies as soon as they manifest. That way, they can fix potential problems before they have a chance to cause disruptions.
4. Optimizing routes
Every commercial flight starts with a flight plan. The flight plan ensures the plane meets all operational regulations for the flight, gives the crew sufficient information to ensure safety, and facilitates coordination with air traffic control.
Real-time data from weather and air traffic sensors can help operators identify the most efficient routes and create more dynamic flight plans. For example, using IoT to monitor wind speed and direction in real-time can help a plane find the most efficient route to its destination, saving time and fuel.
5, Automating air traffic control
Air traffic control is a critical part of aviation, but it is also a significant source of delays and flight disruptions. Thankfully, airports are increasingly deploying IoT solutions to help manage aircraft movement.
For instance, connected sensors can track aircraft locations and provide real-time data to air traffic controllers. This data can help optimize traffic flow, minimize delays and disruptions, and reduce emissions, as planes spend less time idling on the ground or in the air.
The future of aviation sustainability: an even bigger role for IoT
The aviation industry has been feeling the pressure to reduce its environmental impact, and as the effects of climate change become more apparent, that pressure is only going to increase.
IoT offers several promising solutions for making air travel more sustainable. Today, the aviation industry can already leverage IoT systems to unlock opportunities like better flight weight management, enhanced aerodynamics, proactive maintenance, optimized routes, and automated air traffic control. As IoT technology evolves and becomes more widespread, we will likely see even more innovative applications for making air travel more sustainable.
So, are you an IoT developer looking to make a difference in the aviation industry? Or perhaps an airline looking to implement IoT solutions to reduce your environmental impact? Create a free IoT2Market account
and connect with the right people to make your sustainable aviation project a reality.