Economic Incentives for Change

I was having a coffee chat with a friend of mine recently about how some environmental changes aren’t happening fast enough because the motivations to do so are perhaps not as aligned with short-term public & commercial benefit. It was one of those fun conversations where lots of ideas were thrown around.

One that came up, however, while we were on the subject of how to improve the climatogolical decline we are suffering, was on how to help reduce carbon emissions from airplanes.

During our discussion, we figured that if we could reduce fuel consumption on airplanes, that would be a great place to start for slowing down climate change. Armed with the knowledge that hybrid airplanes are under development, we discussed: what if you could incentivize the faster development and use of hybrid airplanes that would consume less fuel, and make their adoption attractive to leading airlines?

The economic incentive idea, perhaps completely nuts, was as follows:

Some large airports have hours where they are not allowed to operate because of how they affect the noise of the neighborhoods where airplanes fly over. If these airports, with the permission of collaborating local authority or government, were to auction off, right now, the rights for airplanes to land on the airport during those off-hours, provided that the take-off and landing and flight through an agreed circumference & altitude from airport was done entirely silently through electric engines, and even if once they cleared the minimum circumference/altitude, they switched back to regular fuel power. We figured that by only having to be electric during this critical time, we would make it easier for this innovation to come faster because by not having to be fully electric, battery size and required stored energy could be reduced to only that which is necessary for approach, landing, and takeoff.

That change would allow many airlines to increase flight capacity on those airports without having to wait for the airport to build additional runways or violate noise & pollution levels (the airport authority would benefit financially as well, of course). Although this program would start ’now’, it would slowly become mandatory over time by steadily increasing the hours of operation where only hybrid planes could land and take off, that way, in the future, legacy fuel-only airplanes could still land/takeoff, but would be restricted to only a few hours a day of operation once the program was well underway.

The net effect, should this work, would be that the airlines (hopefully) through the economic incentive of being able to double revenues for arrivals and departures to specific high-margin city airports, would buy more of these airplanes, but also that engine & fuselage manufacturers would come up with creative ways to retrofit these types of hybrid solutions to existing fleets for them to take advantage of the economic benefits afforded by this program.

Since likely no one from the airline industry will read this (or will they?) the takeaway from the chat, for me at least, was to think creatively about how to take insurmountable problems and and create behavioural change through economic incentives that play into the interests of all parties.

Disclaimer – Neither my friend nor I are specialists in the airline industry or have any connection with it. This blog post is just an example of crafting economic incentives for change. I don’t know if this idea is even legally or technically possible, or if there are any other limitations other than noise in allowing this to be approved by airport regulatory agencies. I further appreciate that if it were not possible for local authorities to make the necessary change in expansion of hours, then this idea would likely not work, but then, again, we’d just brainstorm up another one!


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