Image copyright ACT [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Image caption Galyna Kosheleka, one of the world’s leading experts on the science of aerodynamics, says that airports should charge the people they want to fly the least
Air travel takes some of the shame out of carrying so much weight around the world in contravention of an unwritten agreement of the race to conquer the skies.
But now, according to a leading scientist who has helped pioneer improved low-fuel aviation, there is an “atomic leap” to zero-waste flying.
Galyna Kosheleka is a professor of aerodynamics at Imperial College London, and a pioneer of innovation in the industry.
She says airlines have decades to do so, once their suppliers set an industry-wide standard.
Currently most planes are electrically powered, with the use of fuel only for any extra distance.
But there is still huge room for improvement.
The rules for an ideal aircraft build, which Ms Kosheleka has mapped in her book on the subject, are very clear.
Image copyright PA Image caption That rule is described in a workbook she came up with.
The weight of the wings are not greater than the weight of the tail – or wing body – and the engines should be in a geometrically symmetrical plane, with no obstructions between them.
It is this need to be even and symmetrical – and avoiding any loss of separation between the wings or tail – that makes low-fuel flying technologically impossible.
And Ms Kosheleka is not the only person to say this.
Low-impact approaches, such as using the fuselage as an engine, have proliferated in recent years.
Image copyright FITLAND LIMGE MODEL Of the first flight by Boeing with 14 engines
In 1968, Boeing introduced the first “wing-within-wing” flight, using 14 engines.
In 2006, the UK Aerospace and Defence group QinetiQ managed to reduce the wing of a business jet to the size of a garden shed, an achievement it described as “the first full scale low-impact aircraft engine”.
Any further reduction would require the aircraft to have a body free of means of high-powered propellants, such as combustion and water, which makes any savings in fuel burn – or weight – from these methods impossible.
Ms Kosheleka says that this is not a form of waste. It is an inevitability of flight – and she draws a parallel with the division of labour on a farm.
Loading a cow with manure requires roughly the same amount of fuel as picking up a handful of soil.
The cow is not wasting fuel; it is the human being who is.
She is not suggesting a 100% reduction in fuel. But she says there is an opportunity to improve air travel, which now consumes 15% of the world’s GDP and 30% of its carbon dioxide emissions, while shipping around the world has been condemned by many environmentalists for being an energy-inefficient for the amount of product it puts on the market.
Image copyright Alec Mapstone Image caption Low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet are one of the major players pushing the idea of zero-waste flying
“On a city-to-city journey – that’s 7,000 nautical miles, no matter which airline – you should have got enough fuel for three days,” she said.
“We are talking about over 40% reduction in fuel consumption with these changes.”
In her book she recommends to companies that fly – a trend that has gained some momentum with discount carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet, which have been instrumental in championing the idea of zero-waste flying.
“These airlines are driving the competition in aviation, and they are also trying to reduce their costs,” Ms Kosheleka said.
“It’s a strong incentive for all airlines.”
But there are two obstacles to such ideas.
First, the digital and optical technology – which allows planes to swap their planes and engine types as their needs and efficiency vary – is not yet good enough.
Secondly, industry-wide innovation has not happened yet.
“We need to have a global definition and adoption of a common use of the term zero-waste,” Ms Kosheleka said.
“So I say to the airlines: the definition must be consistent, and defining the potential causes and effects of a zero-waste aircraft will take a lot of time, and will take adoption.”
In the meantime, she says that airports will be left to market themselves on the fact that they are not contributing to climate change in the same way.
“People will believe that, and the airlines will build smaller airports,” she said.
“But aviation is shifting, the level of disruption that might occur will be much more detrimental to life