In November 2019, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the U.A.E., and the Boeing Company entered into an ‘eco partnership,’ in which a specially outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner is being used to test products, procedures and initiatives designed to reduce aircraft carbon emissions and noise levels.  The partnership reflects the awareness of airlines and aircraft manufacturers of the need to reduce the impact that air travel has on our environment.

The latest initiative in the program involves a series of flights this month using a brand new Etihad 787-10, the largest version of the 787. Test flights are being conducted with assistance from NASA and Safran Landing Systems, an aircraft landing gear and braking supplier.


Safran’s news release describes the purpose of the August test as follows:

Safran Landing Systems, which supplies the landing gear for the 787 Dreamliner, will outfit the 2020 greenliner with landing gear noise reduction devices. The objective is to attenuate the landing gear acoustic contribution by more than 20%. Modern aircraft engines have reduced their noise signature to the point that the landing gear is now one of the largest contributing factors to noise on approach and landing. On average, it can account for 30% to 40% of the external approach noise on modern long-haul aircraft.

That amount of noise reduction sounds about right, pun intended. Passengers can always tell the the moment the landing gear is extended by the increased drag (the airplane slows) and substantially higher noise levels in the cabin. The increased noise level is also apparent on the ground.

Airlines realize that improved fuel efficiency and noise reduction is in their self interest for short-term profits and long term sustainability. So far, though, efficiency improvements have been incremental rather than breakthrough. As far as carbon emissions, efficiency improvements have been unable to offset increases in air traffic.

Nevertheless, I think the more that people travel, the better of we are, pandemics notwithstanding. Travel decreases ignorance of other countries and cultures and increases understanding between different peoples. Among other benefits, experiencing other cultures first hand makes it harder it is to be fooled by propaganda and increases pressure on governments worldwide to recognize basic human rights. Making significant improvements in the sustainability and affordability of air travel has benefits that go far beyond the environment.

Do you see benefits in air travel and tourism that go beyond collecting souvenirs? Are there also downsides other than environmental impacts to increased tourism and air travel?