Next time you’re coming in to land in a jet plane, you may find its engines are set to idle. This isn’t as scary as it first sounds, and according to a report in The Age newspaper it is being trialed on commercial jumbos at Auckland International Airport as a method for reducing fuel consumption. According to Lee Jenkins, of Airways New Zealand, the idea of gliding approaches has been around for some time, but has been hindered by the conflicting demands of air traffic control and airport efficiency:
"A key component in this equation is fuel. The airlines have plenty of detail on how their aircraft need to fly in order to burn the minimum amount of fuel, especially on the arrival segment, but traditionally this has been balanced by an air traffic control imperative, driven primarily by on-time performance and runway capacity."
This trial is being set to determine just how much fuel can be saved using this process. The resulting emissions reductions are unlikely to be huge, compared to the overall emissions of a flight, but they are certainly a step in the right direction. Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic has already explored other ideas for increasing efficiency through smarter use, including towing planes to a ‘starting grid’ before firing up their engines, and adopting a ‘continual descent’ pattern when approaching airports.