The sky is about to get quieter, thanks to these innovations in air travel.

If you live near an airport or have driven by one, you may have noticed something: Planes are pretty loud.


That's gotta get old. Image via iStock.


There are 87,000 flights in the sky on any given day in the United States. That's a lot of air travel. What does that mean for the people on the ground looking up?

For the millions of people who live in communities surrounding airports, plane noise from takeoff and landing is part of their everyday life.

It's a constant noise that can be frustrating and take a toll on the mind and body.

According to a study in the NIH's Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the impact of noise exposure goes beyond hearing impairment and can also negatively affect blood pressure, stress levels, and sleep.

Noise isn't the only concern with all the air traffic. The environment feels it, too.

Similar to other transportation vehicles, airplanes release many pollutants into the air. With the industry's growth in size comes more noise and pollution.


Air traffic worldwide. GIF via pinyponsi_cgr/YouTube.

This may seem like it only affects people living near airports, but with air travel demand expected to double in the next 20 years, the demand for flights and airports to host them is only going to increase.

For many people, traveling less isn't an option. So innovators have come up with some more realistic solutions for the environmental and noise pollution problems.

What about a plane that's 100% powered by solar energy?

Solar Impulse 2, changing the aviation game. Image via Steve Jurvetson/Flickr.

There's one out there now! It's called the Solar Impulse 2, and instead of using jet fuel, it generates electricity from the solar panels on its 236-foot wingspan. Incredible.

It's going to be a while before any of us step foot on a plane operated in this capacity, but the fact that clean energy is part of the conversation — and is working — is huge.

Or, for instance, a plane engine that's 75% quieter.

PurePower Geared TurboFan Engine. Image by Pratt & Whitney, used with permission.

The company, Pratt & Whitney, has spent the last two decades developing a new engine for airplanes called the PurePower Geared Turbofan engine, which entered into commercial service January 2016. Their goal was to make an engine that is quieter and more sustainable for the Earth, and so far they’re delivering.

Their new engine reduces the plane's noise footprint by 75%, which means a whopping 500,000 fewer people can hear the aircraft taking off compared to a typical plane without it.

That's a lot of lives no longer interrupted by the sound of a plane overhead. And because of that, airports could potentially extend runway hours to allow for more service.

Technologies for better air traffic control make airplanes way more efficient.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been working on modernizing the nation's air traffic control system through what it calls NextGen. Instead of relying on old-school radar-based tracking for air traffic control, the NextGen technology uses more satellite procedures.

According to The Dallas Morning News:

"This technology promises GPS-based tracking as well as new data sharing and communication tools that will allow for more efficient flight paths, better navigation through inclement weather and quicker taxiing times on takeoff and landing.

That increased efficiency translates to fuel and cost savings for airlines, fewer delays for passengers and less air and noise pollution."

The coalition ASCENT is all about reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

The group, made up of 16 leading U.S. research universities and over 60 private-sector stakeholders, is figuring out how to reduce noise, improve air quality, and reduce the climate impact of aviation today.

Through research, ASCENT (the Aviation Sustainability Center) is rethinking the technology, operations, planning, and sustainability within the industry. It's quite a big job.

There is no one single solution to overcome the noise and environmental impact of the planes in our sky.

But it is encouraging to see how much more we know now, and how companies are realizing that more sustainable and greener operations aren't just good for the world, but good for their bottom line.

Flights are cheaper and more accessible than ever before. We should be able to fly to our destinations without harming the Earth — and the people in our path.

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United Technologies

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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