Is Airplane Fuel Responsible For 8,000 Deaths A Year?

Illustration for article titled Is Airplane Fuel Responsible For 8,000 Deaths A Year?

A new report from MIT is linking airplanes to deaths...on the ground. The study suggests that airplanes flying at their normal altitude (35,000 ft) are emitting dangerous pollutants that contribute to 8,000 deaths a year.

Currently, aircraft emissions are only regulated up to 3,000 feet. Why? Because it's been long assumed that anything emitted over 3,000 feet would be deposited into a part of the atmosphere that has significantly smoother air, which means in theory, that the air pollutants wouldn't be affected by turbulent wind that'd bring them back to the ground. One problem though, this might not be true.

To test the effect of airplane emissions, MIT used a computer model that combined flight data, a global atmospheric model and population density to see if the air pollutants would lead to an increased chance of death. They found that:

Analysis of these data revealed that aircraft pollution above North America and Europe - where air travel is heaviest - adversely impacts air quality in India and China. That is, even though the amount of fuel burned by aircraft over India and China accounts for only 10 percent of the estimated total amount of fuel burned by aircraft across the globe, the two countries incur nearly half - about 3,500 - of the annual deaths related to aircraft cruise emissions.

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So how does North America and Europe, who are responsible for more flights, walk away with less deaths? Because in the testing, pollutants are emitted at an altitude where high-speed winds are flowing eastward, which mean flights in North America and Europe damage population dense areas like India and China more.

For the moment though, it doesn't look like anything will change. Airplane companies believe they're a "small part of a big problem" and MIT probably still needs to do more research on the topic. I think if this data is even close to real, regulation at all altitudes is needed. [MIT via Fast Company]

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DISCUSSION

denver-is-too-damn-high
Denver is too damn high

I think there was a study on global warming that focused on nation wide changes in temperature in the days following 9-11. While no aircraft were in the sky, average temps increased about 3 degrees uniformly across the nation. Theory is the reduced high altitude particulates allowed more sun light to penetrate to the surface (reversed global dimming). 3 degrees is a huge bump that was way out of the insignificant range.