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Flight Emissions - Who's keeping track?

A couple of months ago, we began research into whether we could build a live carbon dashboard for Leeds. We soon realised that this would be a huge job, and finding enough consistent, up-to-date data is quite difficult. We decided that we needed to start by focusing on one specific area. Starting with something that produced the greatest amount of emissions seemed logical, but during the research we soon found that there was something quite obvious that was excluded from UK emission figures - international flights.

So, we decided to calculate the emissions from Leeds Bradford Airport's flights. The first question was 'who gets what?'

For example, a flight from Leeds Bradford to Paris - should those emissions be attributed to the UK or France? Half and half? What if it's all English people on the plane? For the sake of simplicity, the solution to this problem was to only count departures from Leeds Bradford, not arrivals (but I'm open to feedback on this!).

Map showing departures from Leeds Bradford Airport (13th Dec 2019)
Credit: ODI Leeds

The technical stuff

We began by creating a simple Python program which takes the departures data from Leeds Bradford Airports website, and puts this into a Pandas dataframe (essentially just a table). Then it uses airport data from to calculate the flight distance (although this will be a conservative estimate as the real flight path wont always be the most direct route). Then it sends a request to FlightAwares API, which returns the aircraft model used for each flight. This is then looked up in my emission factors table . Finally, the distance is multiplied by the emissions factor for that plane (taken from DEFRAs GHG emission factors 2019).

The next step was to make this data open and accessible; so we built a webpage which shows daily flight data. All of the raw data is stored on GitHub too, and released under an open license, so anybody is free to download and use it.

To highlight what those emission figures actually mean, I took some nice examples from Mike Berners-Lee's Book "How Bad are Bananas?" - at the time of writing, the emissions from today's flights are about the same as making 1.5 million cups of tea!

Take a look at the website here (it's a work in progress so it may change!)

Website homepage showing daily summary
Credit: ODI Leeds

What next?

We'd like to add more airports - but we need help with this! The idea is that anybody will be able to take responsibility for a particular airport, and they'll take care of recording daily departures and calculating emissions. We're working on defining a format for storing this data. All of the data would be viewable on our website, but the raw data would also be open, so anybody could take it and build something else.

If you'd like to be involved, look out for the next blog post soon, where we'll show you how you can contribute. Feel free to get in touch in the meantime via twitter @ODILeeds or by email -