Alaska Airlines and others are using A.I., advanced flight programs, and plastic alternatives to improve flight paths and reduce carbon footprint.

Alaska Airlines is on the forefront of major American airlines aiming to be more green, claiming they will be carbon neutral by 2040 by utilizing advancing technologies to reduce their carbon emissions.

While the rest of the world came to a stop amidst the pandemic, airlines used the travel slowdown to test and implement new options to reduce their carbon footprint. Among the most interesting developments in the endeavor is the use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) to improve flight paths and ultimately reduce fuel consumption. 

A company named Airspace Intelligence approached Alaska Airlines claiming it had developed an A.I. which could improve flight routing. In May of 2020, Alaska Airlines was one of the first airlines who employed the A.I., named Flyways, for its service. Over the course of a six month trial, Alaska Airlines used Flyways on all of its continental flights where it gave airline dispatches suggestions on better ways to route airplanes. As dispatchers accepted or rejected these suggestions, Flyways over time progressively got better at its suggestions due to the machine learning, as reported by ABC news. 

According to Time magazine Pasha Saley, Alaska Airlines’ director of strategy and innovation, said “During that time, the A.I. found an opportunity to reduce flight times and fuel on 64% of the flights. It cut an average of 5.3 minutes off each Alaska Airlines flight, saving a total of 480,000 gallons of fuel and avoiding 4,600 tons of carbon emissions.”

Flyways also uses data to predict weather conditions, air traffic and other variables that can impact a given flight when reaching any area of the country. In this way, Flyways can help flights avoid turbulence and bad weather, getting flights to their destinations faster.

“Flyways is probably the most exciting thing that I’ve come across in airline technology since I can remember,” Saleh said to ABC.

However, employing the assistance of artificial intelligence isn’t the only option Alaska Airlines is testing to reduce their carbon footprint. They’ve begun testing the possibility of serving onboard drinks in sustainable paper cups in an effort to ditch plastic water bottles and cups, making planes lighter which means burning less fuel, as well as decreasing their usage of non-biodegradable containers. 

Alaska Airlines had even partnered with Boxed Water to replace plastic bottles, no longer using single-use plastic containers but instead 92% renewable paper cartons, as it says on Boxed Water’s website.

However, Alaska Airlines hasn’t found a biodegradable plastic cup that could hold alcohol, a drink which has proven to be particularly tricky to contain in paper cups, as hard alcohol eats through paper. 

Boeing has also made their own advancements in technology in their efforts to be more green. By borrowing brand new airliners before they’re delivered to a carrier, completely stripping the interior and installing all sorts of computers and sensors, Boeing has essentially created a flying laboratory. 

The ecoDemonstrator, as Boeing calls it, allows for experimentation and testing of new flight innovations which might decrease carbon emissions. 

For example, “Boeing’s teams are testing items like wall panels made out of excess carbon fiber from the Boeing 777, which they hope will be lighter and quieter. They are also testing new lower profile warning lights that will cause less drag on the plane and, in return, burn less fuel.” 

ABC said, “The current ecoDemonstrator has been flying all over the world with sensors and computers analyzing all of the experiments on board to determine if they will help make the aircraft greener.”

Even United Airlines is jumping on the chance to be more green, having “flown their first commercial airliner with passengers onboard using 100% sustainable fuels made of sugar water and corn,” as stated by ABC news. Despite costing more than traditional airplane fuel, it outputs far less carbon.

All these different efforts are working towards a greener future in the airline industry and hopefully better smelling airports.