The airline industry is one of the nation’s biggest consumers of fuel – no surprise there – but new aircraft technology has dramatically improved planes’ fuel efficiency. Besides drastically cutting carbon emissions, more efficient jetliners have proven critical for airlines’ financial bottom lines, and companies clinging to outdated technology are paying the price, as evidenced by this week’s American Airlines bankruptcy.
Despite the cost of upgrades, a more modern and fuel-efficient fleet can make the difference between an airline staying competitive and losing money. It’s no coincidence that American Airlines, which declared bankruptcy this week in an effort to restructure and cut costs, ranks as one of the worst US carriers in terms of average fuel efficiency according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Perhaps even more important, American has also trailed far behind most other airlines in improving its average fuel efficiency over the last decade.
According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times,
More than a third of [American's] 600 planes are McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, an aging design that burns more fuel than newer models. “If oil was still at $50 a barrel, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” said Mike Boyd, an airline consultant. “Their bet was to hold on to their older MD-80s”. American’s fleet has an average vintage of 15 years, making it one of the oldest and least fuel-efficient among the six major United States carriers.
Fortunately, American was already planning a substantial overhaul to its stable of aircraft. Back in July, Wired reported that American had announced huge deals to purchase a minimum of 460 next-generation, fuel-efficient Boeing and Airbus aircraft. It’s worth noting that air travel is nowhere near as “green” as, say, riding your bike, but when it comes to the average “mile per gallon per seat” measurement for a person traveling by either plane or by car, planes are often a more efficient option. For example, the most modern Boeing 737 can transport a passenger as efficiently as a 99-mpg car.
Air travel isn’t likely to lose its popularity anytime soon, but the industry still has a responsibility to be as fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. And airlines are finally starting to realize that greener technology is good for business as well as the planet.