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Heathrow will nix landing fees for first electric flight

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CEO John Holland-Kaye expects to be taken up on this offer within the next 12 years.

When Norway announced that all short-haul flights from the country would be electric by 2040, I was surprised. We had heard murmurings of commercial electric air travel for sure, but to move an entire country’s short-haul flights to zero emissions seemed a little too good to be true.

Still, developments in electric aviation—or at least developments in the push for electric aviation—just keep on coming.

The latest is an announcement by Heathrow Airport, reported on by Simon Calder over at The Independent, that the airport will waive landing fees for the first commercial electric flight to land there. These fees cost up to £1m (US$1.25m) a year, so it’s not an insignificant incentive for carriers to get their skates on and start innovating.

It should be noted, of course, that Heathrow has been facing fierce criticism for its expansion and theaddition of a contentious third runway. It could be argued that any talk of electric flights more than a decade from now (CEO John Holland-Kaye predicted the first landing will take place within 12 years) is simply a means to assuage criticism of the emissions that will be spewed between now and then, with no guarantee that the electric aviation vision will actually (sorry!) take off.

Those criticisms are fair. And skepticism is warranted. But as the fence sitter that I am, I have a hard time imagining a future where aviation suddenly goes away. And certainly I have a hard time imagining the aviation industry voluntarily deciding to go away. So I, for one, am very happy for Heathrow to work on encouraging electric planes—alongside its other sustainability efforts like restoring peatlands as a carbon offset—while others work on stopping cheap air travel all together.

Which strategy prevails remains to be seen, but we need progress on all fronts if we’re going to get this climate change thing tamed.

CEO John Holland-Kaye expects to be taken up on this offer within the next 12 years.

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Heathrow Airport unveils plans for ‘carbon neutral’ growth

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In an effort to appease critics, the airport is focusing on four key environmental strategies.

Now that the long-simmering fight over a third runway at Heathrow has ended in favor of the airport and—many of us would say—against the idea of climate protection, the authorities at Heathrow are unveiling their plans for how to manage growth and eventually achieve ‘carbon neutrality’.

Specifically, the plan will focus on four key areas of emissions reduction/mitigation that include incentivizing low emission aviation technologies like electrification; improving airspace and ground operations to reduce emissions; promoting alternative fuels; and investing in carbon offsets like UK peatland restoration. The airport will also be lobbying the aviation industry to adopt emission reduction targets for 2050.

There are, to be fair, some important and substantive benefits to be had from such work. With commercial electric flight looking like it could really become a thing, the backing of a major airport like Heathrow—which is offering zero landing fees for whoever gets there first—could really help promote that shift. And improving air traffic control and ground operations efficiency should significantly help not only climate emissions, but local air quality too.

But the problem still remains: We need to be reducing emissions as quickly as possible as a society now, not justifying current growth with mitigation plans focused on the future. We TreeHuggers love peat bogs. I’m glad Heathrow is investing in them. But I’m skeptical that any amount of natural system restoration can provide justification for aviation capacity expansion until such a time that truly low emission aviation has become a feasible reality.

In the meantime, more trains please.

In an effort to appease critics, the airport is focusing on four key environmental strategies.

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Danish newspaper will cut most flying and change its travel section

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There is a lot of money to be made in the travel section. Should other media follow their example?

Travel sections make a lot of money for newspapers, and one of the great perks of being a writer is that you get to travel at someone else’s expense. As the old photos from SAS show, Scandinavians know how to do it in style.

So it is really surprising to read about plans at the Danish newspaper Politiken to drastically curtail travelling by its writers. They will immediately stop domestic flying and will offset all flights that they do take.

But more importantly, they are changing their travel section. Editor-in-chief Christian Jensen says that they are going to refocus their coverage:

1) Do more coverage of travel in Denmark, the Nordic countries and Northern Europe, which can be reached by public transport.

2) Drop the Weekend Guide format because it can be perceived as a call to take long flights for a weekend. (This is a very big deal, given that Europeans can fly so cheaply, cross borders quickly in the EU, and do it a lot.)

3) Reduce the number of overseas trips to a maximum of one per release.

sas ham is very big© SAS Museum, Norway/ That’s a big ham!

Via Google Translate, he explains that travel is a good thing, but can be done better:

We should not make enemies of foreign travel and friends with the hometown band. We must discover the alien, taste the exotic and feel the warm blood roll in the encounter with the folkloric diversity. But it does not exclude that one can think well of the climate along the way. As a newspaper, we do not believe in information via the raised index finger. We believe that we can change habits if we give merciful inspiration and concrete information about the consequences of the choices we make – each and every one as a society.

This is an issue we have wrestled with at TreeHugger. It has been a decade since we wrote about how flying is dying, quoting George Monbiot who said, “If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.” Meteorologist Eric Holthaus quit flying and notes that a jet-setting culture in which people travel around the globe for a few days or a week is “not compatible with a future that is livable.”

Yet I still fly to conferences and love seeing new places, although I do feel guilty and tried to justify it here. Katherine, who also feels a bit guilty, has suggestions for making travel a bit less damaging. But Christian Jensen in Denmark is convinced that we have to change the way we travel and the way journalists cover it:

We believe that there is a path where growth and sustainability on the one hand can co-exist with consumption and reason on the other. It is the balance that we seek to find also in our travel journalism. We believe that one can think of the future of the planet and at the same time be pleased to discover the world.

Politiken deserves a lot of praise for their actions; they could take a financial hit from the Easyjet-style weekend advertising. However, Jensen thinks that both customers and travel advertisers are also going in a more climate-conscious direction. “That is how it all hangs together.”

There is a lot of money to be made in the travel section. Should other media follow their example?

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EasyJet to test electric passenger plane within a year

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Sure, it’ll only have nine seats. But the low cost carrier expects larger electric planes in service by 2027.

Last year, easyJet surprised us with a prediction that it would incorporate electric passenger flight into its services within a decade. But the European low-cost carrier appears to show no signs of backing off this bold claim. In fact, Engineering & Technology reports that CEO Johan Lundgren expects to be testing a nine-seater electric passenger plane as early as next year.

Of course, nine seats is tiny compared to most commercial aircraft—but given their horrible per-passenger emissions, it’s encouraging to think that some private business jets might be replaced by electric versions even before easyJet gets fully rolling with electric commercial passenger flight.

Ultimately, though, easyJet is still expecting to see planes of up to 220 passengers flying on battery power for routes such as London to Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Paris within the not-too-distant future. And if they happen to be the first airline to achieve it, they’ll get about US$1.25m worth in waved landing fees from Heathrow as incentive…

Sure, it’ll only have nine seats. But the low cost carrier expects larger electric planes in service by 2027.

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Should we just stop flying to conferences?

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It really isn’t necessary but it sure is a lot of fun. I am conflicted.

The Passivhaus movement is growing all over the world, and the people behind Passivhaus Portugal are very active, running a conference every year in Aveiro, a small city between Lisbon and Porto. I did a presentation by video last year which was evidently well received, and this year they asked me to come in person.

I did so knowing that it was silly, putting big heavy cement overshoes on my carbon footprint to speak at a conference about reducing our carbon footprint. But there is something about meeting people in person, and I had never been to Portugal.

high speed train in PortoHigh speed electric train arriving in Porto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It got still sillier when I flew Easyjet from London to Porto, paying less for the fare on a two-hour plane ride than I did for a two-hour train ride from Aveiro to Lisbon.

CestariaCestaria is the one in the middle/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I loved Portugal. The food was wonderful, the people are friendly and warm, the cities are models of walkability, and did I mention the food? I loved running along the beach in Costa Nova, (and staying in a Passivhaus) and climbing the stairs in Lisbon.

Lloyd talking© Hugo Cunha via twitter

Having participated two years in a row in the Passivhaus Portugal conference, I can attest that being there and meeting everyone and seeing the other presentations is a whole lot better than phoning it in. I learned a lot, made some great connections and came back refreshed, excited and intellectually stimulated.

But I can’t help feeling that it was an illicit pleasure, that I can’t justify the carbon footprint, particularly given the topic being discussed at the conference. This, while I am trying to decide about going to next year’s Passivhaus conference in China! Is it better to go, to learn, to talk, to exchange ideas, or should I stay home? But I have submitted an abstract for the China conference and if it is accepted, will be presenting a paper. Is this not too great an opportunity to miss?

Many in academia are starting to say no, it isn’t. One group led by Parke Wilde of Tufts University is trying to get academics to stop flying, noting that they fly a lot more than the general population:

Many university-based academics fly much more than 12,000 miles per year. We have faculty colleagues who diligently limit their environmental impact in many areas of their lives, but not their flying behavior. For an academic professional who eats comparatively little meat, commutes by public transportation, sets the home thermostat at a reasonable temperature, and drives a fuel-efficient car, unrestrained flying behavior easily may be responsible for a large fraction of his or her total climate change impact.

This is absolutely the case for me. I do all of the above, bike everywhere in town, and flying is by far the biggest component of my climate footprint. And flying is even worse than just the carbon.

They do not consider the enhanced impact due to the release of aviation emissions at high altitudes, where they influence climate change through the process of “radiative forcing.” This radiative forcing may multiply the climate change impact of flying by a factor of 3. The more conservative adjustment factor used in the CoolClimate Network calculator from the University of California Berkeley to account for radiative forcing is 1.9, meaning that the full climate change impact of flying is approximately double the direct impact of the greenhouse gas emissions. After accounting for this issue, some estimates suggest aviation is responsible for 5% of global human climate change impacts.

Parke Wilde notes that many academics worry that if they don’t fly, they won’t get the exposure they need and it will hurt their career: “They feel pressure not to miss the same events that other people in the field are attending.” But he also notes that not going to conventions gives one more time for research and writing. This is certainly true; I promised my editor that I would keep working while I was away, but I was too busy walking and going to museums and eating great food and drinking fine port to actually meet my work commitments. Overall, I would have been a whole lot more productive if I had phoned it in.

Over a decade ago, George Monbiot wrote about the difficulty of convincing people that they shouldn’t just hop on a plane and fly.

When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening.

Costa novaThe stripy houses of Costa Nova/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But it is so easy. The economic craziness that makes that Easyjet flight cost 30 pounds is part of the problem, a reverse incentive encouraging people to fly instead of taking shorter, greener trips. In gorgeous Costa Nova I was told that people from Lisbon don’t come there anymore because it is cheaper to catch a plane and vacation in Tunisia. There is a giant economic distortion happening here that makes flying so cheap.

When we had a beer after my talk in Lisbon, conference organizer João said he hoped I would come back for next year’s conference. I would love to; it is such a great way to mix work with play. The flight isn’t too expensive and the food and the hotels are cheap. But I am beginning to think that in all of these events, the carbon cost is just too high.

What do you think? Do the benefits of travel to conferences outweigh the carbon cost?

It really isn’t necessary but it sure is a lot of fun and you learn a lot. I am conflicted.

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Airlander gets production approval in USA

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The hybrid hyper-efficient aircraft can be configured for “luxury expeditionary tourism.”

The Airlander combines “the best characteristics of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters with lighter-than-air technology to create a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft.” We have previously covered its launches and its slow-motion crash landing with admiration, because it is an amazing craft that could be the future of low-carbon travel, being pushed through the skies by four little Diesel engines in the present configuration, but which can be replaced with electric motors.

Airlander flying© Hybrid Air Vehicles

It can stay up in the air for five days, can cruise at 80 knots, and can carry ten tonnes. And now it has received Production Organization Approval from the American Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which brings it a step closer to reality. According to the release:

A Production Organisation Approval (POA) considers the manufacture and assembly aspects of aircraft production. This includes supply chain management, processes relating to manufacture and assembly, and the production facility itself. Both the Design Organisation Approval (DOA), which covers design activities and flight test, and the POA, covering manufacture and assembly, are required to move forward into a type certification programme with the production Airlander 10.

airlander interior© Hybrid Air Vehicles

The Airlander can carry a cabin that’s about 150 feet long and 10′-6″ wide, and new renderings by design consultancy DesignQ show that it could be quite comfortable, if you can get over the see-through floors. This could introduce a new era of slow travel:

long view of interior© Hybrid Air Vehicles

Stephen McGlennan, CEO of HAV, comments that Airlander 10 is changing the way we think about air travel. “Airlander challenges people to rethink the skies – that’s the driving force behind everything we do,” he says. “Air travel has become very much about getting from A to B as quickly as possible. What we’re offering is a way of making the journey a joy.”

long view of interior© hybrid Air Vehicles

Airlander 10 can take off and land from virtually any flat surface, eliminating the need for traditional infrastructure like ports or airports. This opens up opportunities for luxury expeditions to places existing transport can’t get to and offers the ultimate in transformative, experiential travel.

beanbag chairs© Hybrid Air Vehicles

With all due respect to the designers, I am not convinced about the beanbag chairs. I also think that an opportunity was missed to do some retro lightweight tubular designs, sort of a flying Farnsworth House.

stateroom© Hybrid Air Vehicles

It is all very luxe, but that is probably inevitable given that weight is such a big deal on lighter-than-air craft; you can’t pack people in like sardines. “The Altitude Bar will offer drinks with the ultimate view, while 18 guests can enjoy fine dining in the skies.”

But a five day ride in an Airlander will probably cost a lot less than the $250,000 it costs for 90-minute ride on a Virgin Galactic rocket plane, and even when an Airlander crashes, there is not much of a bump.

Given the choice, I would take the Airlander. But it really needs an aluminum piano like the Hindenberg had.

The hybrid hyper-efficient aircraft can be configured for “luxury expeditionary tourism” that is virtually carbon-free.

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Could ‘flygskam’ change the way we travel?

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The Swedish word, which translates to ‘flight shame’, is driving interest in climate-friendly trains, longer stays, and frequent flier taxes.

‘Flygskam’ is the latest Scandinavian word to become popular, thanks to social media. But this time it’s not about cozy, cuddly, relaxing feelings, but rather pinpointing that icky feeling you get when you board a plane, knowing how terrible it is for the environment. Thus, the literal translation from Swedish: flight shame.

The anti-flying movement is gaining traction in Europe, thanks to a few key influencers. Björn Ferry, a 2010 Olympic biathlete, has replaced air travel with overnight trains across Europe. One news outlet reports that his boycott of air travel has triggered “a huge movement of like-minded travellers in the Scandinavian country – a really remarkable fact, considering how the Swedes are one of the world’s most frequent flyers: they fly seven times more than average Europeans.”

Another famous non-flying Swede is young activist Greta Thunberg, who insisted on taking a 32-hour train ride to the World Economic Forum in Davos, a stark contrast to the private jets that delivered 1,500 leaders to the same climate summit.

Accompanying the rise in flight shame is ‘tagskryt’, or train bragging, where train journeys are glamorized and made to look trendy on social media. A Facebook group swapping tips and stories about train travel has swelled from 4,000 to almost 90,000 members in the past 16 months, and Sweden’s rail lines have seen a significant surge in sales. Reset reports,

“Interrail tickets were also more popular in Sweden in 2017 than they have been for a long time; around 50 percent more tickets were purchased than in the year before. By comparison, bookings for air travel fell by three per cent.”

Meanwhile in the UK, Green Party leader Sian Berry shared in a recent interview that she hasn’t boarded a plane since 2005 and that she’d welcome the introduction of a frequent fliers’ tax. She described it: “One way of reducing demand for air travel is a frequent flier levy, that would allow everybody to take one flight a year for no extra tax, and then it increases a lot… One flight a year seems fairly reasonable to me.”

The Guardian interviewed a number of people who are adhering to personal no-fly resolutions, such as the environmental sociologist who had to take a month off work to travel by train to China to do climate research. (It took him two weeks both ways.) Several families described vacation destinations that took several days to reach by train, but were positive experiences overall. The key is to learn to enjoy the journey, to think of it as part of the trip, rather than expecting to be dropped into a foreign place.

I can’t help but think that it’s easier to make a no-fly pledge when you live in Europe, a continent that’s fortunate to be covered with intricate train lines. Here in vast Canada, it’s pretty much impossible to get anywhere by train, unless you’re moving from one major city to another (and we only have a handful of those). But then, the rise in flygskam could be a good incentive to improve and develop train lines everywhere, diverting money that would otherwise be used to expand airports to this new, more climate-friendly purpose.

While I’m not yet at the point of being able to swear off air travel completely, I have been thinking long and hard about how to balance it better in my life. I don’t claim to have perfect solutions, nor do I assume what works best for other people, but I have cut out meat from my diet since returning home from Turkey last month in an effort to offset my desire to travel. I’ve also been thinking about how to take longer trips, after noticing that the European tourists I met in Istanbul were there for several weeks, compared to the Americans who stayed for only 2-3 days. There was a stark contrast in the way different cultures approach their vacations, and I think we could all benefit from the lengthier, slower-travel approach that treats a trip like an annual project, rather than a long weekend getaway.

Last words go to Maja Rosén, a Swede who stopped flying in 2008 and recently decided not to stay quiet any longer when friends brag about flying. She told the Guardian,

“People don’t realise that what they do as an individual is so important because it affects those around them. If you keep flying, all your friends will as well. You contribute to the norm. But if you decide to give up flying or take a flight-free year, that makes others reflect.”

It’s time for us all to reflect.

The Swedish word, which translates to ‘flight shame’, is driving interest in climate-friendly trains, longer stays, and frequent flier taxes.

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Is flying dying? No, it is growing faster than ever

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It’s expected that by 2037 the number of people flying will double.

We do go on about the carbon emissions from flying and really, I do feel guilty every time I get on a plane, and am trying to do it less often. But the rest of the world is doing it a lot more often; according to William Wilkes in Bloomberg,

Airplane pollution, which has risen by about two-thirds since 2005, is forecast to jump as much as sevenfold by 2050 as incomes in developing economies advance, making flying more affordable for hundreds of millions if not billions of people, according to the Montreal-based ICAO. The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, the industry’s biggest trade group, expects the number of airline passengers to double by 2037, to more than 8 billion a year.

Wilkes notes that the number of planes in the air will double, and there will be a 50 percent gain in the number of private planes.

All of these forecasts are terrifying climate scientists and activists who say increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are leading to rising temperatures, more extreme weather and higher death tolls from natural disasters caused at least in part by human activity.

Planes are getting better all the time, using lighter materials and more efficient engines. But this is all being overwhelmed by the increase in numbers of people flying. Wilkes says that electric planes might work some day for short haul flights, but that “an emissions-free solution for long-haul flights, on the other hand, will likely remain elusive for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, Wilkes also writes that Ryanair just became the first airline to become one of the top ten polluters in Europe.

Ryanair was ninth on the list of top polluters in Europe. The remaining slots in the top 10 were taken by utilities that generate electricity from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Others are far more optimistic. In Vancouver, Harbour Air is swapping electric engines into their Beavers.

In Germany, Andreas Klöckner of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) says it will be much better and even cheaper.

First of all, purely electric flight is locally emission-free, which means that the aircraft itself does not emit any pollutants. Second, both production and maintenance of electric propulsion systems are expected to cost less, thanks to the reduced number of moving parts. And the third advantage is that electric propulsion enables completely new aircraft configurations, which should further reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise levels.

Alas, none of this is likely to be in place by 2037, by which time there are twice as many people in the air. And of course, there is no mention of that IPCC 2030 deadline, by which time we have to cut our emissions by 45 percent. Over a decade ago we were writing about how flying was dying, that we couldn’t do it anymore, quoting George Monbiot: “If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.”

But it doesn’t seem that very many of us got the memo.

It’s expected that by 2037 the number of people flying will double.

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New report questions whether we should bring back supersonic transport

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A number of companies are flying SST Trial balloons, but we should all pop them now.

Things are different when you look up. Here on the ground, people try to make vehicles more energy efficient. Up in the sky, companies like Boom and Lockheed-Martin want to build supersonic planes that consume many times as much fuel per person as a subsonic plane. Boom is pitching their plane as a luxury service, but the real market for these little SSTs is the billionaire business jet, where money really is no object and CO2 problems are for little people.

Concorde jet© Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There is a reason nobody flies supersonic now; the only plane that did it, the Concorde, was unprofitable, even with fares that were higher ($7,500 round trip in today’s dollars) than first class on a subsonic plane. But they used so much fuel, flew so few people, and cost so much to maintain that airlines couldn’t make any money on them. After the hit to the industry from 9/11 and the fatal crash in 2003 they were pulled out of service. They have been missed, hence all the interest in these new planes.

We wondered previously if bringing SSTs back was a good idea, and apparently so does the International Council on Clean Transportation. They just released a study that concludes that the return of SSTs would double the amount of noise pollution around airports and cause disruptive sonic booms around the world, and then there is the carbon footprint:

The SST fleet would emit an estimated 96 (88 to 114) million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 per year, roughly the combined emissions of American, Delta, and Southwest Airlines in 2017, and an additional 1.6 to 2.4 gigatonnes of CO2 over their 25-year lifetime. That would consume about one-fifth of the entire carbon budget afforded international aviation under a 1.5°C climate trajectory, assuming that aviation maintains its current share of emissions.

Boom in flightBoom in flight/Promo image

The Boom people claim that their plane will put out the same CO2 per passenger as a subsonic business class passenger, and the ICCT disagreed with this previously. Now they back that up with new information and conclude that “new SSTs are unlikely to achieve fuel burn parity compared with current subsonic business class.” Nobody really knows because these SSTs aren’t off the drawing boards yet, let alone the runways. But they think that regulators should be developing “robust environmental standards to manage the expected noise and CO2 impacts of reintroducing commercial SSTs.”

Regulators are faced with two choices: either to develop new SST standards that would allow those aircraft to produce more noise, air pollution, and climate pollution than new subsonic designs, or to apply existing subsonic standards to SSTs.

So while every generation of new planes is more fuel efficient, and some are even talking about electric planes, with SSTs we take a huge step backward. We don’t even know what we are getting.

A comprehensive analysis of the climate impacts of these aircraft is recommended. Non-CO2 climate forcers, including water vapor, nitrogen oxides, black carbon, and aviation-induced cloudiness are expected to be significant given the high cruise altitude of SSTs.

Boom at nightBoom/Promo image

Last year, Blake Scholl of Boom tried to justify his airplanes in a changing world, because “the need for improved human connection has never been greater.”

While it is important to preserve mankind’s ability to flourish on our planet, it is also important to extend that ability. A key part of this flourishing, in our view, is supersonic travel. We look forward to working with innovators and scientists around the world to ensure that the future is both green and supersonic.

But the new report from the ICCT shows how silly and specious that statement is. These planes put out 3 to 9 times as much CO2 per person as regular economy flights, and we have to limit those. They are going to negatively affect everyone living under them or near the airports.

superssonic business jet© Lockheed-Martin

Really, given where we have to get to in carbon emissions, this is just a bad idea all ’round. But that won’t stop a billionaire in a hurry, who wants his Lockheed X-59 QueSST business jet; they have probably already sent in their deposit checks.

A number of companies are flying SST Trial balloons, but we should all pop them now.

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Tip: How to deal with your backpack on a plane

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What do you do when there’s no more carry-on room?

Flying is bad for the environment. Don’t do it.

That being said, if you do fly (cough), you may have experienced a common conundrum: the overhead bins fill up, and the flight attendants asks you to put your backpack under your seat.

That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but you overstuffed this backpack for your trip to avoid paying luggage fees. Now you’re doomed to cramming the backpack “under” the seat in front of you and squeezing your legs into the tiny space left.

You dutifully sit like a magician’s assistant crammed in a box and spend hours wishing you could stretch. When you stand up, your legs fall off. Now how will you go on that walking tour?

I understand; I’ve been in this situation many a time. And I finally found a solution.

1. During takeoff, keep your backpack under the seat in front of you like the flight attendant says, so the plane doesn’t fall into a black hole.

2. After takeoff, pull the backpack against your chair.

3. Drape your legs over the backpack like it’s a leg rest.

There: You’ve just turned your backpack into a recliner chair. It’s surprisingly comfortable; you can stretch your legs out just as much as you could without a backpack. I’m no doctor, but I imagine giving your legs room to breathe is healthier than keeping them crammed in front of you.