Southwest's eco-friendly jet: You are now green to move about the country

southwest-eco-friendly-jet-you-are-now-green-to-move-about-the-countryAir travel has deservedly gotten a bad rap from the green set. Jet engines spew out huge quantities of carbon, and flying is by far the most energy inefficient way to travel. But that hasn't stopped airlines from trying to paint a green tint on their fuselages. Witness the latest offering from Southwest Air (LUV) -- a "greener" plane.

Southwest unveiled the concept on Oct. 21 -- a standard Boeing 737-300 with many interior modifications to make the plane more eco-friendly. The green plane will incorporate modular carpet from Interface. The carpet is 100 percent recyclable; after it becomes worn and torn, it can be returned to Interface and remanufactured in a completely carbon-neutral process. Southwest will be testing two types of green leather seat covers that are lighter and more durable than traditional airplane seat covers. One of them, e-Leather, is actually made from recycled materials discarded by leather manufacturers.
Another green improvement will be a life vest pouch that is one pound lighter per passenger. The pouch will also be smaller, leaving more room under seats for carry-on items. Several other small changes, including a move to aluminum seat parts to replace less durable plastic parts, and the inclusion of lighter foam in the seat fillings, will add up to a five pound per seat weight reduction. The total weight savings will be roughly 472 pounds per plane. That equates to roughly a 9,500 gallon reduction in jet fuel used per plane over the course of a year, according to China View.

While these moves by Southwest are laudable, they do little to address the growing concerns that jet contrails are contributing to global warming, as explained by National Geographic News Service. And airline traffic is believed to contribute between 2 and 3 percent of all carbon dioxide gas emissions, a sum that is far out of proportion on a per mile basis as compared to other forms of transportation.

Airlines are acutely aware of their eco-image problem and are trying different tactics to reduce their carbon footprints and fuel consumption. According to the blog of carbon mitigation company TerraPass, an Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai, UAE, to San Francisco in December 2008 was able to slice 6 percent off its fuel consumption through simple steps such as washing the plane before takeoff, using a tug to pull the plane to the runway, and using auxilliary power at the terminal rather than power from running the jet engines. The 8,000 mile green flight was also nearly 45 minutes shorter than standard flights on that route. Look for even more efforts to cut weight on flights and to cast a greener hue on airlines as the pressure to combat global warming grows stronger in the coming years.

Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at alex@dailyfinance.com.

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