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Avionics research to benefit environment

GHG inventory reveals irony in increased flight emissions
Feb 2, 2010
By Erin Sykes

A small increase in greenhouse-gas emissions at OHIO?s Avionics Engineering Center could have positive environmental ramifications for the entire airline industry.

According to Ohio University?s recently completed greenhouse-gas emissions inventory, the center?s fuel usage increased by 3,077 gallons in fiscal year 2009 while its greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 26 percent. This would normally be disappointing from an environmental perspective -- except that the increased fuel usage is due to increased research intended to ultimately reduce flight emissions.

?We think about environmental impacts even as we operate aircraft powered by fossil fuels,? said Assistant Technical Director of the Avionics Engineering Center Dean Bruckner.

The avionics research is part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, a Federal Aviation Administration program created to decrease flight delays, improve safety and reduce environmental impacts. Ohio University is one of three schools involved in this research, along with Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some of the system development and testing currently being conducted by Ohio University?s Avionics Center will help address climate change.  

One such system that is being tested at Ohio University is the Automated Dependent Surveillance and Broadcast, or ADS-B.  ADS-B will improve the industry?s ability to fly direct routes, descend continuously and manage air traffic by making it possible for an aircraft to continuously self report its location in space. These improvements are anticipated to significantly decrease fuel burn.

?The Avionics Engineering Center has been the right-hand organization for the FAA for 45 years,? said Bruckner. ?We believe our research will improve the safety, efficiency, cost effectiveness and throughput, and reduce the environmental impact of the U.S. air transport fleet.?

Overall, Ohio University flights demonstrated a 10 percent decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions during FY 2009. Total flight GHGE emissions were calculated from four areas: avionics planes, purchased flights, the university-owned turbo-prop and the Department of Aviation's training fleet.

Plane ticket purchases plummeted in FY 2009, as a result of a travel ban implemented in September 2008.  During the year, Ohio University flew an estimated 1.5 million miles less than in FY 2008 and decreased emissions by 1,314 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTeCO2) ? saving more than $300,000.

Emissions associated with the university?s private jet also plummeted due to budget cuts. The jet flew more than 90 hours less in 2009, reducing GHGE by 99 MTeCO2.

In Ohio University?s Department of Aviation, improved weather conditions enabled aspiring pilots to log more flight hours in FY 2009, yielding a 5 percent increase in GHGE.

As budgets fluctuate over time and weather continues to vary yearly, the most enduring greenhouse-gas savings may result from research in avionics, according to senior Amy Nordrum, who compiled the FY 2009 GHG inventory data for the Office of Sustainability.

?We must be thinking nationally and even globally in understanding and computing the environmental benefits of our flight test program,? said Bruckner.


Ohio University?s greenhouse-gas inventory provides an annual accounting of all the greenhouse-gas emissions attributable to the existence of the university. The report will soon be available for viewing at www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org


Published: Feb 2, 2010 8:50 AM

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