There are three obvious answers to this question, and they are the same given for any other form of transportation: more efficient vehicles, cleaner fuel, less traffic. Unfortunately, these changes seem to be much harder to initiate in the world of air traffic than they are in the world of ground transportation.
Scientists are working on improving energy efficiency, however engines on planes are already quite efficient, so there’s simply not that much more to be done.
As far as alternative fuels, again, research is being done, and actually there have been a few small successes. Still, it hasn’t taken on yet. One major setback to is probably fear. It’s one thing to try to run a car on vegetable oil or water or rubbing alcohol or whatever when you’re only a few feet from the ground, but messing around with alternative fuels tens of thousands of feet in the air is just a bit scarrier. Another setback is cost. Researching energy alternatives, and ultimately completely revamping a fleet of planes is expensive, as are alternative fuels, and the costs are likely to end up trickling down to the consumer. Airlines are rightfully wary about making an investment with such unpredictable outcomes, especially at a time when most consumers are paying close attention to their expenses.
Concern about consumer approval is also an issue when it comes to reducing traffic. Emissions from airplanes could be reduced simply by reducing the number of flights and/or ensuring that all flights are filled to a minimum percentage. This would, of course, mean, that customers wouldn’t have as many options as far as departure times, and they’d be more likely to be delayed (since there wouldn’t be all those empty seats just waiting for them to jump in if, say, their original flight was cancelled). It’s also possible that this would lead to certain unpopular routes being abandoned altogether.
Despite all these set backs, airlines are certainly making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Several different biofuels are being developed, and some, including an algae- and a cooking oil-based fuel, have even been incorporated into commercial flights. One important factor in continuing such improvements is likely to be evidence of customer support. If airlines feel that this is what consumers want and that we’re willing to make some sacrifices ourselves to make it happen, they’ll be more willing to do their part.
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