It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a group of planes flying like birds? Airplane manufacturer Airbus is researching new ways for passenger planes to reduce fuel consumption and reduce emissions, and the company has found that flights would be more fuel efficient if they flew in the skies in a V-shaped formation like a migrating flock of geese.
The concept, which the company is calling fello'fly, would see planes flying closely behind one another, and the trailing aircraft would take advantage of the rotating wake of air left behind by the wings of the leading plane to reduce drag, a technique called ‘vortex surfing’. Scientists have understood this effect in travelling birds for decades, but applying the idea to man-made metal birds is relatively new.
Flights in formation are already practiced during military operations, but for this idea to have wings for passenger jets, it will require approval from air traffic controllers. Flight routes might also have to be planned differently so that different planes can match up with one another along the way.
Greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft is approaching nearly a billion metric tons a year, and air travel makes up about 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions, so reducing pollution is becoming a priority for more airlines.
Because of environmental concerns, some travelers have decided to give up flying entirely, in a movement called flygskam, the Swedish word for ‘flight shame’. Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is often said to have started this movement, and she made headlines last year when she sailed across the Atlantic for the Climate Action Summit in New York.