Friday, April 12, 2019

Can Weighing Passengers Make Civil Aviation Safer and Greener?

Will civil aviation become safer and more environmentally friendly if we precisely know how heavy each paying passenger is?

By: Ringo Bones

Nick Brasier - chief operating officer of the Berkshire-based start-up technology company - called Fuel Matrix claims that in the future every airline passenger will be weighed in order to make civilian air travel much safer and much more environmentally friendly that it is at present. And if Mr. Brasier’s discrete method of weighing passengers becomes mandatory, it could also slash ticket prices. Does Mr. Brasier’s Fuel Matrix really have the potential to transform civil aviation for the better?

Ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth hit the movie theaters and people everywhere became conscious about the size of their carbon footprint, environmentalist had been, more or less unfairly, pointing their finger at civilian air travel for their excessive carbon dioxide emissions. Even though fossil fuel companies produce way, way more carbon dioxide than the global airline industry, any schemes that results in significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by airline companies seems to be only of political value at best, but as they say, every little bit helps.

The resulting safety improvements and operating cost reductions may be more of interest to the global airline industry than the resulting absolute reduction of carbon dioxide if Nick Brasier’s Fuel Matrix scheme gets widespread acceptance. At present, airlines use “assumed mass” – estimating the total weight of the passengers by using set figures. Typically each passenger is assumed to weigh 88-kilograms. Mr. Brasier believes that airlines currently load about one percent more fuel than they actually need and due to the unforgiving laws of physics and Mother Nature, consequently burn between 0.3 and 0.5 percent more fuel due to the very fact that they carry unnecessary surplus fuel. 

With the global airline industry spending an estimated 200-billion US dollars a year on fuel, the possible saving worldwide is up to 1-billion US dollars per year. In addition, safety will be enhanced by captains loading extra fuel when it is actually warranted – such as when several rugby teams are booked on the sane flight. Additional savings can be made by allocating passengers in the optimum seats to ensure that the aircraft is properly balanced. At present, pilots sometimes need to apply “trim” during flight to counter a weight imbalance, a procedure that adds extra fuel burn.

At present, Nick Brasier’s Fuel Matrix is already in discussion with a number of long-haul airlines, including at least one British carrier, about deploying the tech firm’s fuel-saving system. Back in 2015, Uzbekistan Airways said it would weigh passengers before takeoff in an effort to “ensure flight safety”. Back in 2017, passengers at Helsinki airport were asked to step on to weighing scales before boarding by Finnair. This was a largely voluntary scheme to gather data on average passenger weights. Also in 2017, Hawaiian Airlines implemented a new policy on flights to American Samoa to weigh passengers and assign them to specific seats to ensure weight is evenly distributed inside the plane.

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