Here’s a word you might have forgotten in 2020: flygskam, a Swedish term for feeling ashamed of flying. In a year where the number of thefts was down 66% from 2019, you might think flygskam stole from the cooperative. But with a recent increase in air traffic – and the anticipation of a rebound in travel thanks to COVID-19 vaccines – flygskam is taking off again. The term was born in 2017 as part of a campaign to change the way we fly, from the frequency of our flights to the technology of our planes. The goal: to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions which, according to experts, could triple by 2050. Aviation represents a relatively small share of global emissions – 2.5%. While the biggest culprits, like electricity and agriculture, are responsible for the larger emissions, they also benefit billions of people. Airline emissions, on the other hand, come mostly from wealthy travelers from richer countries: Business class passengers produce six times more carbon than economy class passengers, and one percent of the most frequent travelers are responsible. half of all aviation carbon emissions. Will the slowdown in travel due to the pandemic be enough to shake up aviation and produce sustainable benefits for the environment? In 2020, the drop in air traffic has likely reduced carbon emissions by several hundred million tonnes. Some are calling for making these reductions permanent by eliminating contrails, using new fuels, improving navigation, and more. With climate change reaching a point of no return as early as 2035, it will be necessary to act quickly. (Wondering what you can do? Here are 12 ways to travel sustainably in the New Year.) Of course, flying less would have an even bigger impact, and there are calls for travelers not to fly. that once a year, forgo flying for a year, and attend conferences virtually. Still, air travel is here to stay, so the cleaner the better. Here are some of the ways theft could clean up its act in the years to come. Reduce contrails Aviation emits more than carbon dioxide; it also produces water vapor, aerosols and nitrogen oxides. These pollutants absorb more incoming energy than is sent back into space, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm. This means that aviation’s impact on global warming could be even greater than its carbon footprint. The worst carbon-free impacts come from contrails, short for contrails: the line-shaped clouds that form from the exhaust fumes of an airplane. A small number of thefts are responsible for most of the contrails. Indeed, trails only form in narrow atmospheric bands where the weather is sufficiently cold and humid. Avoiding these areas could make a big difference in limiting non-carbon pollution from aviation. A research paper modeling Japanese airspace found that modifying a small number of flight routes to avoid these areas could reduce the effects of contrails on climate by 59%. The change would be as little as 2,000 feet above or below these regions. While flying a higher or lower aircraft could reduce its efficiency and require more jet fuel, the paper found that limiting drag would still offset the additional carbon emissions. “There is a growing realization that the impact of contrails is a really important component of the climate impact of aviation,” says Marc Stettler, one of the authors of the article and speaker on transportation and environment at Imperial College London. The places where contrails can form change from day to day, so airlines need accurate weather forecasts over several days to avoid them. In the future, pilots might report contrails, just as they do now with turbulence, so other planes can adjust their flight paths. EU aviation authority EUROCONTROL began preparations last year to conduct trials on a drag prevention project. Stettler and his colleagues plan to continue their research on how to implement changes that could reduce drag. “This is the fastest way for aviation to reduce its impact on the climate,” he says. Harnessing Alternative Fuels Commercial planes use a kerosene-based propellant, but companies are experimenting with transforming biomasses, such as vegetable oil and even used diapers, into jet fuels. Some research suggests that these biofuels could reduce carbon pollution from airplanes by more than 60%. But not all biofuels are created equal. Those that could be processed into food are not viable due to the growing population of the planet, which needs crops for its calories. Used cooking oil and leftover pulp from agriculture or forestry are expensive and not produced on a scale large enough to make a significant difference. But that doesn’t mean that other sustainable aviation fuels won’t be developed. (How clean is the air in planes? Cleaner than you think.) “You hear that aviation is a difficult industry to decarbonize,” says Andrew Murphy, director of aviation at Transport and Environment, a European non-governmental organization. “This is only half the story. The other half is that we haven’t tried. The most promising areas include electronic fuels, or “synthetic fuels,” which do not require engine reengineering. To make e-fuels, electricity – hopefully renewable – is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon dioxide to make jet fuel. Another effort is to extract carbon from the atmosphere and use it as an ingredient in fuel. While this technology is still in its infancy, that doesn’t mean it has to be far. “The pandemic has shown us that new technologies can be accelerated if we want to,” says Murphy. Switching to Electricity or Hybrid Cars are not the only means of transport to be the subject of an electric innovation: a count found a hundred projects of electric propulsion planes underway. The first electric flights will be in small planes with a range limited to a few hundred kilometers. Norway, a country with many islands and mountainous terrain requiring puddle hopping, has pledged that all of its short-haul flights will be on electric planes by 2040. Underserved areas could one day benefit from new routes exclusively by electric plane. “A huge fleet of these could radically change local transportation systems,” says Ron Steenblik, former director of the Global Grants Initiative at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. A plane descends as the sun rises over Mexico City. Artificial intelligence is being used in efforts to improve air navigation and reduce delays that cause planes to sit on the tarmac or circle the airport. Photograph by Marco Ugarte, AP Going further or flying bigger planes with electrification is not in the short term. But some companies are exploring a hybrid between electricity and hydrogen, which could expand the ranges. Boeing and others are also considering hydrogen as a means of propulsion even without electrification. Airbus recently revealed three different hydrogen-powered planes with plans to put one or something of the sort into service by 2035. “We don’t just want to make it technically feasible,” says Glenn Llewellyn, vice president of Airbus zero-emission aircraft project. “We want to make it economically viable.” The Hindenburg disaster in 1937 ended the first hydrogen era. The aviation industry tried and abandoned a hydrogen effort again in 2010 after finding it too expensive. But Llewellyn points out that hydrogen has been improved by other industries, such as automotive and space, proving its safety, innovating in its uses and reducing its costs. “The ecosystem is evolving in a very different way than it was 10 years ago,” says Llewellyn. “We have a better starting point.” Improving Navigation Airlines have used computers to optimize routing and scheduling for decades, but they are now putting artificial intelligence (AI) to work to find new ways to reduce jet fuel requirements. Air France, Norwegian and Malaysia Airlines are already using a technology called Sky Breathe that uses big data and AI to analyze billions of flight records in an attempt to find ways to save fuel. The company behind Sky Breathe claims to have saved customers more than $ 150 million in 2019 and reduced its CO2 emissions by 590,000 tonnes. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is halfway through a multi-year upgrade called NextGen, which will be a series of interconnected systems to improve the way air traffic control sees, navigates and communicates. The FAA says the technology will allow for tighter landings and takeoffs to be planned and reduce delays that leave planes sitting on the tarmac or circling the airport. “AI is really good at examining models,” says Ashish Kapoor, an AI researcher at Microsoft who works on aeronautical projects. “We have years of experience flying airplanes, so we have a lot of data.” There will be more data as the planes are equipped with sensors, which will produce additional information on the improvements. All of this data means the next step in aviation could be different. The algorithms could develop new aircraft designs and come up with flight plans, taking into account speed, comfort and emissions. “We don’t have to evolve like aviation has done over the past hundred years,” Kapoor says. But for that to happen, more than technology must evolve; countries will have to change their laws and airlines will have to fund expensive research. Incentives will be needed to encourage the aviation industry to become sustainable. Janice Lao-Noche, environmental specialist and development economist, says it’s going to take a lot of flygskam and maybe the pain of climate change is disrupting more flights for all the innovations to take off. “I don’t think it’s futile,” Lao-Noche said. “[But] it will be, no pun intended, a bumpy ride for the aviation industry. Jackie Snow is a Washington, DC-based technology and travel writer. Follow her on Instagram. .