If you are following the news, you will notice that there is a lot of discussion over oil prices. On the supply side, the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has caused disruptions in the supply and led to higher prices for the end consumer. This, along with future speculation, continues to bid oil prices higher and higher.
If you are a frequent flyer, you may notice that the price of oil directly impacts the cost of your flight. In today’s climate, airlines point to the rising cost of oil and say that they desperately need to increase their profits and control these rising costs. In fact, according to the International Air Transport Association, jet fuel in North America has had a 45% cost increase compared to the 2010-2011 year.
That being said, what is an airline carrier to do to keep prices low while costs continue to soar? In today’s climate of rising oil prices, there has been a shift to alternative energy and perhaps the future saving grace for the airline industry. Thanks to a team of engineers, last Friday evening (May 13th) the Solar Impulse flew from Brussels to Switzerland in the first international flight fueled by solar energy. This prototype airplane flew at night for roughly 13 hours through gusty winds for the first successful international trip. The plane consists of four engines and has the same wingspan as a Boeing 777 of over 200 feet (61 m). Weighing only 1600 kg (3,527 lb), the plane carries almost 12,000 solar cells which supplied all of the energy needed to make the international journey. The airplane was founded by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg (the pilot at the controls) whose primary intention was to show what renewable energy can do – not for commercial airlines.
That being said, the application of this technology can change the way we know international travel. Let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve still got a ways to go! While a typical non-stop flight from Belgium to Zurich is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, this test flight might hold the futures answer to airline cost regulation and decrease reliance in oil volatility.