Burn Less Jet Fuel
The Dreamliner's biggest selling point isn't the added moisture in its cabin, but the surplus of liquid in its fuel tanks. Compared to the similarly-sized Boeing 767, the Dreamliner is 20 percent more fuel-efficient, a product of its lighter overall weight and improved aerodynamics. Burning less fuel hasn't translated to travelers spending less on tickets, but it does allow the plane to make more direct flights to more locations. If cost-savings from better fuel economy are ever going to trickle down to consumers, the sky would have to be filled with Dreamliners, or similarly redesigned planes from competing firms.
The more feasible path to jet fuel efficiency is also one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the United States. The NextGen Air Traffic Control is a sprawling set up of upgrades, including the use of GPS data to more precisely track planes. "The technology we use for air traffic control is pretty antiquated," says Casey Dinges, public affairs director at ASCE. Current air traffic relies heavily on radar, and on ground-based controllers to relay the relative position of aircraft. The NexGen system would transmit location data to ground towers, as well as to other aircraft. "Planes will be able to use less fuel, and make airport approaches more closely than now," says Dinges. Though estimates vary, NextGen could reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent, saving more than four million gallons of fuel per year.