Monday, March 24, 2008

Cessna Adventures

What an adventure we had on Friday! My family took a long weekend to travel to visit my parents. My parents live near Plattsburgh, NY which is upstate of upstate NY. Plattsburgh is fairly isolated as it is located across Lake Champlain from Burlington, VT and about an hour south of Montreal.

Normally, we drive through New Hampshire and Vermont to get home. Near Burlington, we take a ferry across the lake and then drive the 10 miles to get to my parents home in the town of Peru. However, this time we decided we wanted to try flying. Cape Air just recently started direct flights from Boston to Plattsburgh. The flight time was listed as one hour and 20 minutes. We found this appealing as my 9 month old does not enjoy long car rides.

So on Friday, we made our way to Logan and eagerly checked in for our flight. The agent said it may be bumpy and we probably should not eat. We kind of chuckled at this and didn't really think much about it. As we were about to board (a process that takes about 3 minutes), the agent also suggested using the bathroom. Looking back, this was the best advice I have ever received.

We boarded the small aircraft. The plane seats 8 passengers and the pilot. On this particular flight we had five adults, our baby, and the pilot. We taxied behind an American Airlines 747 which was hilarious. You realize how huge those aircraft are as you stare up at the tail. Now, Friday had really high winds. In fact, winds were gusting 30-40 mph. We took off down the runway and things seemed smooth until we were about 100 feet in the air and the first gust hit the aircraft. I immediately clutched the seat in front of me. Oh my! Within minutes, I realized the value of the no eating advice. The plane pitched in every direction you can imagine. It pitched in directions I never realized aircraft can move. The plane got knocked around for about 20 minutes until we cleared the clouds and found some smooth air.

Things were peaceful for about an hour. My son was oblivious to the bumps we had just experienced and he dosed off to sleep. Then we hear a beep and my wife and I just look at each other. We knew that meant it was time to start to descend back into the wind. Again, this was a stretch of my life that tested my ability to keep the contents of my stomach in. The plane rocked, twisted, and dropped until finally we touched down. Everyone let out a big sigh of relief.

As soon as I made my way into the airport, I said hello to Dad and ran over to the Hertz counter. Do you have any cars available on Sunday?

Now that I am on firm ground, I can think about my carbon footprint over the weekend. I flew from Boston to Plattsburgh but took a ferry and car on the return trip. How does the carbon footprint of these two trips compare?

The Cessna uses about 240 lbs of AVGAS per hour of flight. This particular flight took an hour and 40 minutes because of the headwind. We can estimate about 400 lbs of fuel. We can also estimate about 20 lbs of CO2 emissions per gallon of AVGAS so we are talking about 1300 lbs of CO2 emissions. My family took 2 of the 8 available seats so we account for about 325 lbs of CO2 emissions. These are very rough estimates.

How does this compare to driving? Figure about 245 miles of driving and a fuel efficiency of 24 mpg means we spent about 10 gallons of gas. This equals about 200 lbs of CO2 emissions. Now, I have to factor in a ferry ride. How much fuel does a ferry use? What kind of fuel does a ferry use? I have no idea. I would guess a lot because of the engines really sounds like they are working hard. So I figure my footprint from the driving direction is between 200 and 300 lbs of CO2.

When you play with the numbers, the CESSNA option really doesn't sound that bad compared to driving in terms of CO2. It is a bit more of CO2 emissions but there is always the argument that the plane would be heading in that direction anyway and I might as well be on it. Plus, the CO2 emissions are shared by multiple parties.

So, what can I conclude. Next trip home, I will first check the weather. Any sign of wind and I am driving . But, given the carbon footprint of the two options, flying on the small aircraft can be justified particularly if Cape Air is able to fill the flights. I may need a few weeks to forget about the experience but I'm sure I will be back up in the CESSNA sometime in the near future.

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