Tag Archives: aviation

Electric plane reaches important milestone in New Zealand

It will probably take a long time before we see commercial electric airplanes, but that doesn’t mean we’re not seeing progress.  

Image credit: Electric Air.

Pilot Gary Freedman crossed New Zealand’s Cook Strait with a two-seater electric plane owned by the company ElectricAir. It’s the first emission-free plane to make the flight across the strait.

The Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand, extending northwest to southeast from the Tasman Sea to the south Pacific Ocean. It’s a notoriously difficult route by sea because of its treacherous currents and fierce storms, so travel between the North Island and the South Island is mainly done by rail ferry or air.

The strait is named after James Cook, the first European commander to sail through it, in 1770. The first flight over the strait was in 1920 by Captain Euan Dickson, flying for Henry Wigram’s Canterbury Aviation Company. But now it was about time to shake things up, introducing what could be a new way of flying across the islands. 

The trip in the electric plane lasted 45 minutes, with a cruising speed of 150 kilometers per hour. While it likely wasn’t much faster than the biplane that Dickson used 101 years ago, the flight cost only $2 in electricity. ElectricAir estimates that the same flight in a similar-sized plane powered by fuel would have used about $100 in plane fuel — so it’s a big chance to not just reduce emissions, but also lower traveling costs. 

Celebrating the arrival of the plane in Wellington, New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw commented:

“We’ve always needed aviation, particularly when it comes to our regional access, and electric aviation opens up a lot of these small remote places, because obviously electricity is so much cheaper than aviation fuel.”

Freedman said New Zealand has the highest number of short-haul flights per capital in the world and said he was hopeful that this new technology can create an “electric bridge” between the islands to reduce greenhood gas emissions. The flight coincided with the opening of the COP26 climate change summit in the UK, set to continue during the next two weeks.

A big challenge for the aviation sector

Aviation accounts for about 2.4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. The sector wasn’t included in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and its emissions are rising fast – increasing 32% between 2013 and 2018. A return flight from London to San Francisco, for example, is estimated to emit 5.5 tons of CO2 equivalent per person — that’s almost as much as the average European emits in an entire year.

Airlines grouped under the Air Transport Association have committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with most emissions reductions coming from sustainable aviation fuel – less polluting than the traditional jet fuel. But it won’t be simple, as there’s a very limited supply of sustainable fuel being produced annually. Furthermore, aviation emissions aren’t included in the Paris Agreement, which means there’s less external pressure on airlines. 

The use of batteries in electric planes has also been considered, but this is still very tricky as it would mean using a battery with massive energy output. Another element to address is energy consumption during flights. While a car can be charged when it runs low on electricity during a ride, an airplane can’t do this during flights over water. 

Still, for shorter trips, electric airplanes may be in sight. Much like electric cars seemed far away but progressed quickly in just a decade, electric planes also seemed like a pipe dream, but are now close to reaching commercial price-effectiveness. So, would you ride on an electric plane if given the chance?

It’s not just birds: wasps also threaten airplane safety in Australia

Contrary to popular belief, flying is one of the safest means of transportation, moving millions of people around the world every year. Still, there are always safety issues to consider, and one of these issues are interactions with wildlife, especially birds. Now, a new study shows that wasps can also bring risks to flying aircraft.

Image credit: Flickr / Bob Peterson

Interactions between aircraft and wildlife are frequent and can have serious financial and safety consequences, with a lot of money spent to find ways to reduce the risk. Birds are the most common threat to aircraft, with a host of terrestrial animals also implicated in runway accidents.

“Wildlife is a serious threat to aircraft all over the world. Birds are especially dangerous, and a LOT of money is spent on managing them to reduce the risk of aircraft hitting either on the ground or in the air. Our project highlights that its not just birds (or bears, coyotes etc) that pose a threat to aircraft – insects can too,” says Alan House, lead author of the new study.

The keyhole wasp (Pachodynerus nasidens) is native to South and Central America and the Caribbean region and typically uses man-made structures (or natural cavities) to construct nests. It hunts and captures butterfly, moth, or other insect larvae to put inside the nest and covers it with mud. At airports, ideally-sized cavities are abundant in airside machinery.

Pitot probes are among the most popular cavities for insects. These are hollow instruments projecting forwards from the aircraft fuselage that measure airspeed. Wasps have obstructed them many times in the past, leading to accidents — most notably, in 1996, when an airplane crashed after taking off in the Dominican Republic, presumably due to a wasp.

Researchers Alan House of Eco Logical Australia and colleagues found that keyhole wasps at the Brisbane Airport were responsible for 93 instances of fully blocked replica pitot probes, and the wasps pose a real threat for airplane pilots.

The experiment was triggered by a number of near-misses at Brisbane in which wasps were thought to be responsible for pitot probe obstructions. House and his team wanted to figure out wat species was causing the problem, which part of the airport and airplane model were at greatest and the seasonality of wasp nesting.

The researchers used 3D-printing technology to construct a series of replica pitot probes. Real ones are expensive difficult due to their cost, House told ZME Science, so they chose replica probes from the most common aircraft. The probes were attached on steel panels that resemble aircraft skins and then mounted at gates where aircraft park whilst in transit.

The findings showed that only the exotic keyhole wasp nested in the pitot probes. No native species did so, except a parasitoid wasp but it wasn’t responsible for the blockage of the probe. Most of the blockages happened at one end of the airport, which means there was a hotspot preferred by the wasps.

Still, the results underscore mitigation strategies, such as setting traps to intercept the wasps or covering pitot probes, the researchers argue. Nesting activity followed a predictable pattern, being highest in the warmer months of November-May, which means. This pattern follows that for the species in its native range. Nesting success (the proportion of nests producing live adults) was optimal between 24 and 31°C.

The most common aircraft using Brisbane Airport (Boeing 737 and Airbus A320/330) were the most popular with the wasps for nesting, the researchers found. The study covered a 39-month period between 2016 and 2019, in which 93 instances of fully blocked process were recorded by the researchers.

The study is already achieving something: airport operators are starting to become more aware of these issues, House concludes.

“We’re hoping that airports and airlines in other parts of the sub-tropics and tropics (where this wasp can live) will also take note. Although the issues of wasps and aircraft is known elsewhere, this is the first attempt to quantify the risk and suggest mitigation measures,” House told ZME News.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

What the aviation industry is doing to reduce carbon emissions

The air flight industry is talking about sustainability more and more, but do they walk the walk? Recently, the International Civil Aviation Organization reportedly blocked scientists from its Twitter page for sharing valid criticism, which is not what you’d expect from an industry that actively wants to reduce its emissions.

That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made, because it has, but critics are rightfully questioning whether that progress is sufficient or not. Let’s have a look.

Image credits: USDA.

We all like to travel from A to B quickly — and, given today’s technology, there’s no real substitute for flying. But whether we like it or not, planes are an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The airline industry produces between 2-3% of all man-made CO2 emissions, and the sector is increasing rapidly. The number of people flying has doubled from 2 to 4 billion in the past 15 years and shows no sign of slowing down.

If global aviation was a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters. Global aviation emissions are projected to rise by 70% from 2005 to 2020, and by a further 300-700%. Many airports around the world are undergoing or planning extensions, which would further exacerbate this increase (although carbon-neutral airports are also becoming a thing).

So what is the aviation industry doing, and what can it do?

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there are 4 main things that companies can do:

  • fly more efficient aircraft,
  • use new technologies to set more efficient flight paths and reduce delays,
  • use sustainable lower-carbon alternative fuels, and
  • invest in emissions offsets within or outside of the aviation sector.

While plane efficiency has improved dramatically in the past decades, the trend has stalled in the past few years. Especially in the US, where regulation has been relatively lax, little progress has been made recently — despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that CO2 from aviation contributes to pollution that endangers public health and welfare, which legally requires a framework to reduce emissions.

Improving efficiency also requires companies to renew their fleets — which of course, costs a lot of money, and some companies have been more willing than others to do.

Reducing delays and implementing more efficient flight paths are constantly being improved and finessed, but there’s only so much that that can do — at the end of the day, you still have planes flying and consuming fuel and generating emissions. Naturally, the way to address that would be by developing alternative fuels. However, there’s no global standard to produce and measure the efficiency of biofuels, and studies have shown that, most of the time, biofuels are surprisingly ineffective — we don’t really want to cut down forests for biofuel crops, that would be simply offsetting the problem. Simply put, alternative fuels for aviation, while an area of active research, are miles away.

The other approach, if you can’t or won’t reduce your emissions, is to invest in sectors that would offset your emissions. They could, for instance, support the development of renewable sectors in developing countries or finance reforestation (that’s still a simplistic view, but you get the idea). Several organizations such as the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) support a “market-based measure” that would require airlines to pay a fee for the growth of the carbon they emit on international flights. This type of policy has already been implemented in the European Union with notable results. It creates a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions.

At the end of the day though, without a carbon pollution cap or some form of taxation, it’s unlikely that substantial change will occur. Naturally, most of the aviation industry is opposed to such policies and in most cases, governments have failed to deliver healthy regulation. The big silver lining is the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA — an emission mitigation approach for the global airline industry, developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). However, CORSIA has proven to be a very delicate compromise between all parts involved and is not nearly as stringent as EU regulation for instance.

Lastly, it should also be said that we, as passengers, also have a responsibility. If you fly from London to New York, you generate roughly the same level of emissions as heating a home for an entire year. We all love vacations in faraway places, we love to fly to conferences and events — but it would be best if we could be a bit more conscious about our flights. Even if you work really hard to take the bus or bike to work, even if you reduce your meat consumption, all that hard work can be invalidated by a single trip. We can also push politicians and companies to adopt more responsible policies and try to push. At the very least, we should be aware of these issues.




Credit: Pixnio.

How Virtual Reality is poised to change the aviation industry

Credit: Pixnio.

Credit: Pixnio.

Although technologists, media outlets, and fictions have been teasing it for decades, it’s only these past couple of years that technology has caught up with consumers’ ambition for virtual reality (VR). VR is particularly exciting for gaming and entertainment, but it also the potential to radically transform many other industries and aspects of our lives. For instance, VR is now helping surgeons with complicated operations by offering cyber training or treating patients with schizophrenia by providing a visual space where they can meet the voices that torment them. Another huge area that’s set to be impacted by VR is aviation, where it has the power to revamp the industry. Here’s how.

Enhancing the flight experience

Some flights can take as much as eight hours, which can be excruciatingly boring. People usually pass the time by reading books, watching a movie, or listening to music. By its very nature, however, VR is a far more immerse form of entertainment which might help make that flight from London to New York just a little more bearable.

In-flight VR could also help people who are afraid of flying. Instead of going through a traumatizing experience for hours, passengers can immerse themselves in a calm environment of their choosing, whether it is somewhere in nature or a stadium watching football. And for those on the opposite side of the spectrum, you could even enjoy a view of the air plane’s outside surroundings as if you were a bird high above the clouds.

Training the next generation of pilots

Credit: Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim).

Credit: Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim).

VR is now offering a new way to train pilots beyond the capabilities of traditional flight simulators. As in a simulator, VR flight simulator’s such as Bohemia Interactive’s BISimulator offer cadets access to flight controls that are analogous to those in a real cockpit. However, the immerse experience means that would-be pilots go through a more realistic training scenario. Another added benefit is that training wouldn’t have to be limited by cumbersome equipment and space. Simulators emulate different kinds of cockpits for different kinds of aircraft training, whereas VR training is a lot more versatile and portable. This alone could save billions across the industry.

The French military is already using VR to train their pilots, according to a 2007 study.

Cabin crew training

The advantages of VR training also extends to the cabin crew, which needs to be prepared for all kinds of special situations like emergency landings, passengers in need of medical assistance, and even terrorist hijacking. For instance, a company called Future Visual designed software that allows trainees equipped with a VR headset to inspect airplane models. Everything is exactly as in a real airplane, allowing trainees to learn first hand how emergency doors and other important features of each aircraft work without having to keep an aircraft grounded for training and having to use a lifesize model. Again, there’s a lot of potential for saving costs.

Aircraft engineering

Modeling in 3D has been a ubiquitous tool in many engineering disciplines for decades. Pratt & Whitney, an engineering company, has designed virtual reality tools that allow aviation mechanics and engineers to peer inside a jet engine, for instance. There’s even an “exploded view” feature that allows engineers to examine the jet engine’s individual parts.

Over the next three to five years, as graphics cards to operate VR become cheaper, higher-end cards will be able to drive very large models of millions of polygons with complex lighting and shading. This is when VR engineering will truly become exciting.

There’s also many other unexplored areas of aviation where VR might make an impact. This kind of technology is still in its infancy, so one can only guess what kind of developments and exciting new features will be enabled when VR and aviation fully cross paths. So far, they’re only starting to know each other.

Aviation 101 : Flight Dynamics

To most people, the sky is the limit.

To those who love aviation, the sky is home.

All vehicles are free to operate in three dimensions i.e the longitudinal, vertical and horizontal axes. But while cars are limited in that they can’t really take off from the streets, airplanes can really take advantage of all axes.

In an aircraft, movements are known by Pitch, Yaw, and Roll, respectively.


Motion about the lateral axis is called pitch. This is a measure of how far an airplane’s nose is tilted up or down and is controlled by the elevator.



Motion about the perpendicular axes is called yaw. It determines which way the nose of the aircraft is pointing.

This is controlled by the movement of the rudder.



Motion about the longitudinal axis is called roll and in aircraft determines how much the wings are banked.


This is controlled by the movement of the aileron.


                                                        The position of the Aileron, Elevator and the Rudder on an airplane

Where do you use it?

Although usually, plane flights are quite monotonous and employ just one type of movement at a time, there is a wide variety of times where all the three have to be employed, like in the crosswind landing. Crosswind landing is a landing maneuver in which a significant component of the prevailing wind is perpendicular to the runway center line.


The above maneuver is known as Crabbing.

The nose points towards the wind so that the aircraft approaches the runway slightly skewed with respect to the runway centerline ( depends on the direction of the wind ). Upon approaching the runway threshold, moments before landing, the pilot aligns the aircraft with the centerline.


And this is easier said than done as it involves the meticulous control of the pitching, yawing and the rolling of the aircraft in order to stick the landing ( as is seen in the animation )

Some more examples

One need not restrict the usage of these terms merely to aircrafts, but can extend it other objects of interest as well.

Cars also experience pitch, roll, and yaw, but the amounts are relatively small and are usually the result of the suspension reacting to turns, accelerations, and road conditions.



For a human- Pitch is like saying Yes. Yaw is when you say No! And roll is when you just wave your head.

Pitch, Yaw and Roll and that’s all there is to it.