In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency released its first-ever rules on airlines emissions, designed to cut down on air pollution, per the Hill. Now, a new collaboration will hopefully help reduce airlines' carbon footprint even further. The typically congested airspace between North America and Europe used to boast around 1,700 flights daily, but these days it looks like a high-altitude ghost highway, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and a significant reduction in traffic. That means air traffic controllers can now "throw out the old rules," per CNN Business, and that's exactly what will start happening over the next several weeks as pilots traveling across the Atlantic will be able to select their own routes, possibly leading to big savings in fuel and a drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
The deal, struck between NAV Canada, which manages Canada's airspace, and NATS, which does the same for the United Kingdom, will give pilots leeway to pick their own flight paths "based entirely on optimum route, speed, and trajectory" on days when things aren't too hectic. Planes usually have to follow predetermined routes selected by the two agencies to avoid chaos in the skies. But between the drop in air travel over the past year—there are currently only about 500 trans-Atlantic flights per day, as opposed to 1,700—and updated satellite systems that give air traffic controllers a better handle on planes crossing the pond, it's now possible to "take off the guardrails," CNN notes. "The dramatic fall in traffic we've seen across the Atlantic has given us a window of opportunity to do things differently," NATS says. It's not clear how long this more relaxed protocol will remain in place. (Read more airlines stories.)