Airbus has revealed three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035

Airbus has revealed three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035. All of these concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source—an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets.

To achieve that 2035 deadline with commercial product, Airbus would have to select the specific technologies by 2025, according to Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer.

This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight. I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen—both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft—has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.

—Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO

The three concepts—all codenamed “ZEROe”—for a first climate neutral zero-emission commercial aircraft include:

AirbusZEROe Turbofan Concept

A turbofan design (120-200 passengers) with a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.


AirbusZEROe Turboprop Concept

A turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using two hybrid hydrogen turboprop engines instead of turbofans. It would be capable of traveling more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it a perfect option for short-haul trips.


AirbusZEROe Blended Wing Body Concept

A “blended-wing body” design (up to 200 passengers) concept in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. In the blended-wing body configuration, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.


These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035. The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.

—Guillaume Faury

In order to tackle these challenges, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refueling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. Support from governments will be key to meet these ambitious objectives with increased funding for research & technology, digitalisation, and mechanisms that encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally friendly aircraft earlier.

To evaluate and validate these new concept aircraft and assess whether they could be matured into viable future products, Airbus will be focusing its efforts on a number of technological pathways.

Airbus sees three primary uses for hydrogen in aircraft: combustion through a modified gas turbine; conversion into electrical energy via a fuel cell; and conversion to synthetic kerosene.

For us it is particularly important to combine the first two of these three elements, meaning having direct combustion of hydrogen through modified gas turbines with an embedded electric motor powered by fuel cells. To accelerate on this path, we already have in the pipeline a zero-emission demonstrator which will be fundamental especially to de-risk concepts such as refueling of such an aircraft and a safe storage and distribution of hydrogen onboard an aircraft. We aim to get the first results by 2021 and that’s an extremely short time indeed to gain insights and the risk safe storage of hydrogen on board an aircraft.

Now just think. Hydrogen has the same energy levels of kerosene so granting the same type of range, of performance for an aircraft with one-third of the weight. Now, the catch is in the volume here as at isoenergetic conditions the volume of hydrogen is four times as much as the one of kerosene so you can understand here how it will be fundamental to get this point right: tank design and integration onto an aircraft.

One of the most typical solutions is to embed this tank in the fuselage and this brings us then to longer stretch fuselage to wider diameters with an impact on aerodynamic performance—more drag—so it’s really key to get the balance right.

—Grazia Vittadini

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday for talks with his U.S. counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday for talks with his U.S. counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East following its historic normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

Since the agreement was announced last month, the UAE has made no secret about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other advanced U.S.-made weaponry. Israel is the only U.S. ally in the Middle East to possess the stealth fighter jet.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said he opposed the sale of the planes to any other nation in the region, even an Arab country at peace with Israel. But since then, he has softened his line, signaling he will trust the U.S. to honor its commitment to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, even if the UAE obtains F-35s.

Gantz’s office said he would meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Pentagon officials. It said the trip would include “meetings to discuss maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, international policy vis-a-vis Iran and strategy for stopping its expansion and entrenchment in the Middle East, as well as discussion on defense cooperation and procurement.”

Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military, has had cool relations with Netanyahu since the two rivals formed their coalition government in May. Gantz was not informed about the deal with the UAE until after it was reached.

President Donald Trump has said he is fine with selling the aircraft to the UAE and that the request is under review.

A Chinese military PR video imitating a bombing raid used clips from Hollywood blockbusters, including Transformers

A Chinese military PR video imitating a bombing raid used clips from Hollywood blockbusters, including Transformers and The Rock, according to reports. The simulating video was released on the Chinese air force’s official WeChat account and microblogging site Weibo on Saturday. The video shows nuclear-capable H-6 bombers carrying out a simulated attack on a US military base on the Pacific island of Guam.

The Chinese military video called the ‘Gods of War – Attack!’ has so far has been viewed by nearly five million times on Weibo, where many internet users mocked its apparent use of scenes from Hollywood movies. With a dramatic score and high-altitude action shots, the video shows Chinese airmen launching an attack on an island base, resembling US facilities in Diego Garcia and Guam, then returning from the successful fight.

READ | China Makes Proposals for UN’s Role in Post-Pandemic Era

Netizens react to simulating video by the Chinese air force

Social media users were quick to spot some glaring plot holes. The users pointed out that the missile sequences were taken from three Hollywood movies, Transformers: Revenge of the FallenThe Rock and Hurt Locker. “Yeah, we all know that China only knows about “Copy” Everything copy another, such as Shop products and design And now they copy Hollywood movie content and use it for simulated military exercise/imaginary, what’s so surprising,” said a user.

“Copy cat country using copy cat planes/weapons simulated a copy cat WWII Island harbour attack using copy cat visuals from Hollywood movies…new Supah Powah!!” said another user.

READ | New York City police officer accused of being an ‘illegal agent’ for China

Check out the reactions here:

British Airways is bringing its renowned Flying with Confidence course to the comfort of customers’ homes for the first time this October

British Airways is bringing its renowned Flying with Confidence course to the comfort of customers’ homes for the first time this October.

More than 50,000 people have taken part in the Flying with Confidence course since it began more than 35 years ago.

The course, which has typically only been run in a classroom format followed by a short flight the following day, is now being offered as a live interactive webinar, to give attendees every detail from how an aircraft flies, to why turbulence is uncomfortable but not dangerous, to simple breathing techniques to use to manage anxiety, all without leaving the house.

British Airways recognises that around 25 per cent of people have at least some fear of flying, while one-in-ten people have a phobia of flying.

In addition, flyers are now having to navigate travel in the Covid-19 era, so the course will also cover all the safety measures put in place by British Airways both on the ground and in the air, to help give travellers from around the world the confidence to fly again.

British Airways captain, Steve Allright, who runs the course, said: “We are delighted to offer this popular course as a live, interactive webinar, to give more people than ever the chance to sign up and overcome their fear of flying from home, wherever they are in the world.

“Safety is at the heart of everything we do at British Airways.

“There will inevitably be some further worries and questions around the pandemic, so it’s more important than ever that we share with attendees not just the technical aspects of flying, but also the range of safety precautions we are taking, to give them the peace of mind and ensure they have a safe and enjoyable flying experience next time they fly with us.”

In terms of safety, the airline has introduced a range of measures to keep its customers safe and is asking customers to abide by these new measures to help manage the wellness of everyone travelling.

The airline is cleaning all key surfaces including seats, screens, seat buckles and tray tables after every flight and each aircraft is completely cleaned from nose to tail every day.

The air on all British Airways flights is fully recycled once every two to three minutes through HEPA filters, which remove microscopic bacteria and virus clusters with over 99.9 per cent efficiency, equivalent to hospital operating theatre standards.

More Information

More information can be found on the official website, or take a look at what Breaking Travel News discovered when we visited the Flying with Confidence course here.

The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, is reporting that international travel in 2020 is down a whopping 92%

Could testing before flying internationally become the new norm? IATA would like to see it that way. 

The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, is reporting that international travel in 2020 is down a whopping 92% from last year and that massive decrease is crippling economies and livelihoods on every corner of the planet.

 

As countries start to reopen across the globe, many have imposed unmanageable quarantines that make travel impractical and dissuade most travelers. Some nations even change the lists of who needs to quarantine upon arrival so frequently, it makes confidently booking any type of travel an anxious task.

 

empty terminal in JFK airport

This is why IATA is calling for a harmonized pre-flight testing requirement across all worldwide airports in order to dissolve the current quarantine requirements and jump-start the shattered tourism industry.

They are proposing “the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure as an alternative to quarantine measures in order to re-establish global air connectivity.”

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO stated:

 “The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure. This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work,”

Covid testing is getting faster, cheaper, and more accurate by the day, which is why IATA is pushing its proposal with urgency. Forbes recently published a study citing that $1 Trillion dollars, along with 100 million tourism-based jobs globally are set to be lost from the impact of the pandemic.

Testing passengers before international flights, along with other safety protocols like wearing masks and enhanced sanitary procedures could see the safe return of international tourism.

getting a PCR test at the airport

 

Not only would the removal of quarantines make it easier to safely enter nations that desperately need the tourism dollars, but it would also remove barriers for nationals leaving home that would otherwise have to quarantine upon return.

Canadians for example, even when travelling directly to nations with far lower virus rates, have to quarantine for 14-days upon return, or face fines of up to $750,000.

Residents of the UK have been watching their ‘travel corridor’ list of nations shrink week after week. Many found themselves stuck in countries like Greece, France, Spain and Portugal when they were suddenly removed from the quarantine-free list with almost no notice.

How The COVID-19 Vaccine Will Impact International Travel In 2021

 

The removal of quarantine requirements for nations like Canada and UK would also allow nationals to confidently leave their country, knowing scientific testing would confirm their safe and easy passage back home.

Do travelers want testing instead of quarantines?

Iata polled travelers and came out with the following results:

  • 65% of travelers surveyed agreed that quarantine should not be required if a person tests negative for COVID-19.
  • 84% agreed that testing should be required of all travelers
  • 88% agreed that they are willing to undergo testing as part of the travel process
getting a PCR test before a flight

 

IATA isn’t the only entity asking for systematic testing to replace quarantines. Many other worldwide commissions, alliances, travel-based businesses, tourism boards and local governments are also asking for the same.

The Telegraph reported an alliance of over 5000 travel businesses that back the proposal, submitting an open letter to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, pleading for the EU to take action.

airports and airlines looking to test arrivals and departures

While the world waits on an effective vaccine, testing all international passengers is said to be the most effective way to have travel resume in the most ‘normalized’ way possible.

However, a vaccine might not solve all our travel woes right away. With many people expressing their doubt in vaccine safety and already communicating their reluctance to take it, paired with the gargantuan task of trying to vaccinate 7.5 billion people, it will take some time for travel to fully recover.

Will pre-flight testing abolish quarantines

 

“Many see the development of a vaccine as the panacea for the pandemic. It will certainly be an important step, but even after an effective vaccine is globally recognized, ramping up production and distribution is likely to take many months. Testing will be a much-needed interim solution,”

– said de Juniac

systematic testing should replace quarantines

The World Health Organization was already campaigning for the further reopening of world borders back in July warning that bans on international travel cannot stay in place indefinitely. De Juniac agrees, stating

“Re-opening borders supported by systematic testing of all passengers prior to departure should be on the priority list of governments,”

Nobel Prize ceremony on 10 December will be entirely virtual, and the laureates will receive medals and diplomas

The Nobel Prize ceremony on 10 December will be entirely virtual, and the laureates will receive medals and diplomas in their own countries either in the Swedish embassy or at their institutes, the Nobel Foundation said on Tuesday. A few days ago, the foundation had said the ceremony will be scaled down to just 100 attendees. This was after it announced the cancellation of the traditional post-ceremony banquet in July. It is the first time since 1956 that the banquet had been cancelled. The prizes will be announced in October. For the rest of the news, here’s Mint Lite.

TikTok says it’s cleaned up its act

In the first half of 2020, TikTok removed over 3.7 crore videos in India for violating its community guidelines

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In the first half of 2020, TikTok removed over 3.7 crore videos in India for violating its community guidelines

In the first half of 2020, TikTok removed over 3.7 crore videos in India for violating its community guidelines, the company owned by China’s ByteDance said in its transparency report released Tuesday. These were among the 10.5 crore videos removed from the platform across the world. The most videos were removed in India, followed by the US. The report covers January to June 2020, before TikTok was banned in India, along with 58 other Chinese apps. Before the ban, India was one of TikTok’s biggest markets with close to 660 million installs since its launch in 2017. TikTok is also under pressure in the US. The report said more than a third of the videos taken down contained nudity and sexual content. Separately, the company has also proposed a global coalition of social media firms for content moderation as they increasingly come under fire for spreading misinformation and violating privacy.

A way to put air travel back on track

Hong Kong has banned Air India for two weeks till 3 October after six passengers from Delhi tested positive upon arrival

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Hong Kong has banned Air India for two weeks till 3 October after six passengers from Delhi tested positive upon arrival

Universal coronavirus for departing passengers offer the only hope of reviving demand for flights in the absence of a vaccine, International Air Transport Association (IATA) said. The 100% adoption of rapid antigen tests, which should be available next month, would remove any need for quarantines that are currently “killing the market”, IATA said on Tuesday. While IATA’s call for testing isn’t new, it would help create a unified approach to air travel, which will help the financial health of airlines. Air India has recently faced trouble with passengers testing positive for covid-19 after reaching destinations. Hong Kong has banned Air India for two weeks till 3 October after six passengers from Delhi tested positive upon arrival. This is the second time Air India’s ops to Hong Kong have been suspended. Dubai suspended Air India Express operations till 2 October for the same reason.

Gen Z want family time, health

Changing priorities

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Changing priorities

The pandemic has had an unexpected effect on the outlook of Gen Z, or those born between 1995 and 2015. From career and finances, their top concerns now centre on health and family, a new survey shows. The Isobar-Ipsos #MeetTheZ Survey observes the top priorities of Gen Z now are, in order of importance, staying fit, spending quality time with family, having a successful career, travelling and making money. Pre-covid, the top aspirations, ranked, were: having a successful career, making money, staying fit, becoming famous and spending time with family. The report observes the shift in thinking is linked to the fears Gen Z has expressed as uncertainty prevails (see chart). Over half fear losing a year because of delay in exams; while 30% worry about getting a well-paid job.

Why we are so nostalgic these days

A new study from CEPR, which draws on data from 17 trillion songs, finds that nostalgia playlists have been in demand for the past few months on Spotify as people listen to old songs to keep away the blues

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A new study from CEPR, which draws on data from 17 trillion songs, finds that nostalgia playlists have been in demand for the past few months on Spotify as people listen to old songs to keep away the blues

We’ve all watched Friends, The Simpsons or Doordarshan’s reruns of shows from the 1990s while stuck at home and wondered why. A new study from CEPR, which draws on data from 17 trillion songs, finds that nostalgia playlists have been in demand for the past few months on Spotify as people listen to old songs to keep away the blues. It suggests that nostalgia consumption—like listening to old songs or watching reruns—is a coping response to the psychological distress associated with the pandemic, and the restrictive rules that many nations put in place. It adds that hospitals and public places could consider playing old music to soothe people. “Nostalgia may well end up being one of the primary coping mechanisms (for all generations) of enduring isolation, fear, and a general loss of freedom,” observe the authors of another study on covid-19 and nostalgia, which was published in April in Leisure Studies.

Here’s what killed Botswana jumbos

Close to 70% of the elephants were found dead near watering holes, and locals had observed the jumbos wandering in circles, seemingly dizzy, before dropping dead

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Close to 70% of the elephants were found dead near watering holes, and locals had observed the jumbos wandering in circles, seemingly dizzy, before dropping dead

Toxins produced by cyanobacteria in water holes killed about 330 elephants earlier this year in Botswana, the government has said. These mystery deaths in the Okavango delta between May and June had baffled scientists and conservationists. Close to 70% of the elephants were found dead near watering holes, and locals had observed the jumbos wandering in circles, seemingly dizzy, before dropping dead. The government tested soil and water as speculation about poisoning and poaching grew. Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms commonly found in water but not all produce toxins. Experts say toxic ones are becoming common due to global warming. Officials have now said they will be testing all waterholes for the algae blooms to prevent such mass deaths of elephants. They’re continuing the investigation into why only elephants, and not other animals, were affected by the toxins.

Cathay Dragon has been informed by the Hong Kong health authorities that five passengers travelling on flight KA734

Cathay Dragon has been informed by the Hong Kong health authorities that five passengers travelling on flight KA734 from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong on 18 September have been confirmed to have contracted COVID19.

All of them were connecting passengers travelling from India via an Air India Express flight.

Cathay Dragon. Click to enlarge.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) of Hong Kong has since confirmed that Cathay Dragon’s passenger flights from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong will be prohibited from landing at Hong Kong International Airport for two weeks up to 3 October under Chapter 599H of the Laws of Hong Kong.

Cathay Dragon had been scheduled to operate thrice weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. As a result of the CAD directive, the airline has suspended passenger services between Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong until 3 October.

The Hong Kong government on Sunday suspended flights from Air India after a surge in the number of coronavius disease cases, according to local media reports

The Hong Kong government on Sunday suspended flights from Air India after a surge in the number of coronavius disease cases, according to local media reports.

Many local outlets quoted Hong Kong’s department of health as saying the flights of Air India and Cathay Dragon have been suspended till October 3 after passengers aboard were found to be infected with Covid-19.

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that five passengers from India who were on a Cathay Dragon flight between Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong on September 18 tested positive for Covid-19, even after they submitted negative nucleic acid tests before their trip. The passengers were earlier on an India Express flight.

Hong Kong recorded the highest number of new infections in almost a month. One-third of the 23 new cases were in people who had recently travelled from India, according to the Centre for Health Protection. Only four local infections were reported.

Hong Kong had banned flights operated by Air India in August too. These flights were part of the Vande Bharat Mission.

The Vande Bharat Mission started in early May to evacuate Indians stranded abroad due to travel restrictions in wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

A passenger from India can arrive in Hong Kong only if he or she has a Covid-19 negative certificate from a test done 72 hours prior to the journey, according to the rules issued by the Hong Kong government in July.

Air India Express flights were suspended for 24 hours on Friday by the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) for bringing two passengers with Covid-positive certificates on August 28 and September 4.

As per the UAE government rules, each passenger travelling from India is required to bring an original Covid-negative certificate from the RT-PCR test done 96 hours prior to the journey.

Travelling anywhere has become tricky to navigate, and some Canadians have opted to avoid it altogether.

But with closed borders and fewer destinations on airlines’ itineraries, others are exploring Canada by air travel in place of international adventures, or visiting family across the country.

Though flights are available all throughout Canada, how safe is it really to travel by air?

Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada found that more than 370 domestic flights documented at least one passenger with COVID-19 since February, according to CTV News.

While the federal government provides detailed requirements for those travelling outside of Canada, including mandatory 14-day quarantine, travelling within Canada is more relaxed.

The government notes that as of March 30, “all airline passengers in Canada will be subject to a health check prior to boarding.”

Passengers will be refused entry onto a plane if they show any symptoms of COVID-19 and required to wait 14 days and show they no longer have symptoms.

We spoke with passengers, airlines, and infectious disease experts to gauge the state of travel within Canada in the COVID era.

It can be hard to keep a distance on a busy flight

Airlines are filling up seats so expect to get closer than expected to fellow passengers. At least one traveller told us their flight experience involved “concerning behaviour.”

“The week that I flew, they had just announced that they were going to be booking flights completely. So when I traveled, the plane was pretty much completely full, I would say probably 90 percent,” says Corné Van Van Hoepen, a freelance journalist who flew from Toronto to visit family in Vancouver in June. “That was just kind of going against everything that the government was telling us to do.”

Van Hoepen was flying with Air Canada, and he says they provided everyone with a package containing hand sanitizer, sanitation wipes and a water bottle.

“People are drinking and eating, so they’ll pull their mask down and you’re sitting literally centimetres apart from someone else,” he says.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email that the airline made it mandatory for passengers to wear a mask and implemented temperature checks prior to the federal government’s decision to make both policies required.

“We do notify customers prior to their flight if the flight is nearing capacity and we allow them to change, at no cost to another, to a less crowded flight if one is available,” he wrote.

Van Hoepen says he got tested before going on his flight for his own “peace of mind,” but the choice to get tested before or after a flight is entirely a personal one—the federal government doesn’t require it for domestic flights.

EKKALUCK/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS

Air travel is more of a personal health risk than a public one

Zain Chagla, an associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at McMaster University, says that from an outbreak standpoint, air travel in Canada isn’t more risky than other spaces with many people in close contact.

“Transmission that occurs on a plane tends to be related to the people in close vicinity to the infected person, maybe one seat down or two seats down,” he explains. “It doesn’t tend to be a big transmission event across the plane, partially because airplanes are equipped with relatively high end filters.”

On the federal government’s database listing all flights with confirmed COVID-19 cases, the affected rows listed hover between four and eight consecutive rows.

However, Chagla notes that as far as travel options go, air travel is slightly higher risk than other methods due to the number of interactions a person will have before, during and after the flight.

“From a personal health risk, it is slightly higher than just driving to that location just because of the number of people they have to interact with. There are going to be a number of interactions you wouldn’t get during day to day life or during a road trip,” he says.

For passengers, it’s ultimately about personal comfort

Isabella Baxa says she took a flight to British Columbia with her parents in July for a family vacation, and she was confused by the conflicted messaging they received throughout the boarding and flight process.

“They tried to social distance people in the security line,” she says. “But on the airplane it made no sense because it was a jam-packed flight, there was no distancing between rows.

“They kept doing announcements on the flight reminding us to make sure to social distance, but it was literally impossible to social distance on that plane,” Baxa recalls.

Baxa says that even though she was shocked by the amount of people on the flight, she wasn’t too worried about exposure to infection.

But Van Hoepen says he was already a little worried before getting on the flight, and after his experience he spent the following weeks trying to be extra cautious.

“For the first week it was definitely at the back of my mind. I kept checking the affected flight numbers released by the government to see if mine were affected,” he says. “Knowing that I traveled, I just tried to keep my distance from people to limit my exposure, just in case.”

Austin’s under-construction runway will now be 18L/36R, and it’s all because the location of the magnetic north pole keeps changing

The 9,000-foot runway 17L/35R at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport won’t be called that when it reopens after construction, per Aviation International News. Turns out, those runway numbers actually mean something.

Austin’s under-construction runway will now be 18L/36R, and it’s all because the location of the magnetic north pole keeps changing. Magnetic north can move up to 40 miles in one year, according to Wired. While the inner core of the Earth is solid, the outer core of the earth is liquid, and mostly made of molten iron and nickel, as the National Centers for Environmental Information explains. That flow within the outer core generates 95% of the Earth’s magnetic field, and because it’s fairly irregular, that causes magnetic north to move around a bit.

Thus, a runway name change can even happen to runways that haven’t moved or been changed at all. The numbers in runway names refer to the angle a runway sits from magnetic north. In Austin’s case, runway 17L used to be around 170 degrees clockwise from magnetic north at one end, and 350 degrees away if you’re approaching from the other end. These angles are rounded off to the nearest tenth, which makes them easy to shorten to 17L and 36R Now those measurements round off to 180 and 360 degrees—hence 18L/36R. Pilots pronounce these runways like “one-eight” as opposed to “eighteen.”

AUSTIN-BERGSTROM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Technically, both of Austin’s parallel runways will have to change. 175.1 degrees rounds up to 180, after all. Yet this is also a good illustration of why runways have two numbers—one for each direction a plane is traveling on it. L and R will stay the same, because they refer to the left and right runways when you’re looking at the airport from a certain direction.

So, when an airport’s runway position relative to magnetic north no longer rounds off to the numbers represented by its name, the Federal Aviation Administration steps in and forces that airport to rename the runway. The World Magnetic Model put out by the National Centers for Environmental Information is one such resource that airports and the FAA consult to see how things are changing.

This sets off a lot of extra work. New reference manuals and approach plates used by air traffic controllers and pilots need to include the new names. New signage goes in.

Experienced pilots can usually recognize and figure out a runway with an unmarked change, but as Wired notes, there have been incidents where a pilot lines up at the wrong angle for take-offs or landings, or who mistake an entirely different runway for the one they’re supposed to use. The 2006 Comair Flight 5191 crash in Lexington, Kentucky, was a case of mistaken runways where the pilot accidentally used a runway that was too short, killing 49 of the 50 passengers onboard in the ensuing crash.

Changes like this are rare, however. Magnetic north’s movement is relatively little compared to the overall size of the earth, so it’s usually only one or two airports that have to change their runway names every year.

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