GPS--So Many Uses
We've already seen how GPS can be used to track global warming, make cycling more efficient and fun, document environmental destruction and even find lost pets. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that the current U.S. air traffic network--built during the second World War--"is costing U.S. airlines billions of dollars in wasted fuel while an upgrade to a satellite-based system has languished in the planning stages for more than a decade." The new system would cost $35 billion to implement, and would "replace the current radar system with the kind of GPS technology that has become commonplace in cars and cell phones. . .it would triple air traffic capacity, reduce delays by at least half, improve safety and curb greenhouse gas emissions."
How would it accomplish this? Quite simply, by allowing planes to fly in a straight line to their destination, rather than "zigzag from one beacon to the next, sometimes forcing cross-country flights to follow sweeping arcs and waste hundreds of gallons of fuel."The reason why airlines currently don't fly direct routes is that most planes "move in single-file lines along narrow highways in the sky marked by radio beacons"; switching to a network that takes advantage of satellites and GPS would "save airlines at least 3.3 billion gallons of fuel a year" and enable more planes to safely fly at once. Unfortunately, the U.S. has been underfunding critical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and transmission lines, in large part due to the tremendous national debt and, as a result, projects like this aren't being implemented and will most likely have to be put off for quite some time. And that's a shame, because the airlines are struggling these days and we desperately need to find ways of reducing emissions from air travel.
Airlines are Struggling
We've covered how airlines are trying to make up for soaring costs by cutting flights, slowing down, charging for checked baggage and going paperless. Airlines have also been testing biofuels, but the fact of the matter is that we need all the efficiency measures available to us to be implemented sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the financial crisis has made it less likely that the government and the private sector will be willing and able to invest in projects with longer returns on investment. In fact, getting this system in place would require that the airlines "contribute $15 billion toward the $35 billion project, and they must equip their fleets with GPS at a cost of more than $200,000 per plane." In exchange, the airlines would save about 10% on fuel each year, with a payback period of seven years. And if mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions--which both presidential candidates support--were to put a price on carbon, that payback period would be dramatically shortened.
As with so many other issues these days, the question is, can we set aside short-term thinking and plan for the long-term good of society?
More on GPS
Calculate Your Footprint, Just by Carrying Your Phone
Some British Communities Fed Up With G.P.S. Units
GPS Empowering Villagers In Fight to Conserve Rainforest
Solar Powered GPS Unit from F-Tech
Green at WIRED NextFest: GPS-Based Personal Environmental Impact Report (PEIR)