Passengers’ fears about the impact of air travel on global warming have been blamed for drops in passenger numbers in Europe. China has an easier way to cut its jets’ emissions, by sorting out its skies. Better air traffic management should mean less carbon emissions.
Every minute of flight costs US$120 and emits 160 kg of CO2. Because China’s military controls most of the airspace civil airlines have to take circuitous routes that add up to half an hour onto some routes. The situation is most acute in the Pearl River Delta, and will get worse as Olympics-related traffic and chartered team jets start coming through southern China.
Running more efficient jets is urgent too, particularly as fuel prices stay stubbornly high – fuel accounted for 34% of Air China’s operating costs in 2006.
China’s airlines keep adding planes, so local airlines will have to get more efficient. Making
China’s fleet more fuel efficient should be easier. China’s average fleet age is 6.3 years, compared to a global fleet with a average of 12 years among other global fleets, so they’ll be more easily retrofitted.
But anyone who’s seen the bare-basics approach of some Chinese carriers on their newly acquired jets will wonder if they’ll want to spend more on fitting fuel-conserving equipment on their jet engines.