Whilst flying might look as simple as pointing an airplane in the direction of the destination and flying that way through the clouds, in reality, there’s a lot more to its than just hopping from A to B. Airlines spend tremendous amounts of time optimizing their flight paths, ensuring that they are doing all they can to optimize speed and fuel savings, whilst keeping flights comfortable and safe for the passengers on board. Less air traffic as a result of the pandemic means airlines are now free to experiment a little – and that’s exactly what they plan to do. Here’s what we know about this story.
What’s In A Flight Path? The Low-Down For Travelers
As alluded to in the introduction, there’s a great deal of planning that goes into establishing a flight path. When it comes to deciding how to get from A to B, efficiency is the key.
Flight paths are mapped out before a flight, but there are a range of factors that could see the path changed during the flight. Generally, the golden rule is to try and get from one airport to another in the quickest time possible. However, pilots have to navigate a range of hurdles on their way, such as weather problems, crowded airspace, wind and jetstreams.
Jetstreams – with tailwinds that can be in excess of 200mph – can shave precious time and fuel off of a flight duration. Conversely, flying into a headwind can be an uphill battle, meaning that pilots may divert from their original path in order to get to their destination quicker.
There are also other costs involved, such as over flight permits, where airlines need to pay for the privilege of flying over another country, in their airspace. These can be pricey, which might explain why a flight takes a slightly longer or less-conventional path than might seem obvious.
Airlines Free To Pick Their Own Routes – What This Means For Travelers
The lack of planes crowding the airspace as a result of the pandemic might be seen as a problem for wanderlust-afflicted travelers now, but it could be a positive in the long term. The route between Europe and North America was among the busiest in the world pre-pandemic, with around 1,700 flights per day. These flights followed the same designated paths, as they have done for decades – but that is set to change.
NATS and NAVS Canada, the air traffic control services responsible for the UK and Canada, are no longer designating their pilots specific routes to follow across the Atlantic, instead allowing them to pick their paths “based entirely on optimum route, speed and trajectory.” These flights are being used as a test for the airlines to determine how they can better service the routes, with any fuel saving discoveries potentially leading to a reduction in the cost of a flight ticket, as fuel makes up as much as 30% of an airline’s operating cost. With flight times and ticket costs two of any travelers biggest gripes, it’s welcome news for grounded travelers around the world.
These changes to routes are only possible due to a reduction in air traffic in the skies, and the improvement of technology used to monitor North Atlantic air travel. Whilst the experiment could yield cheaper tickets for travelers, it could also result in less carbon emissions too. The aviation community has committed to cutting emissions in half by 2050, and using less fuel to flight routes is a simple solution that would lead to a dramatic fall in CO2 emissions.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories