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Flying High with Purpose

A number of recent experiences have deepened my appreciation for the environment and have made me more aware of the importance of being a steward for the environment.
By Elizabeth Jang

By Elizabeth Jang

A number of recent experiences have deepened my appreciation for the environment and have made me more aware of the importance of being a steward for the environment. For instance, I had the opportunity to study abroad at Georgia Tech’s Lorraine campus for my Spring 2016 semester. As I travelled on my own, I quickly discovered that I preferred exploring mountains to the city. Climbing high and seeing a new location from above, I gained a greater appreciation of a place. Whenever I went on a hike, I felt the responsibility to do my part in preserving the environment so that in the future I could return to these same places to rediscover their natural beauty.

On another trip overseas—this time to Asia—I once again felt the duty to live in a more environmentally-friendly way. I had to wear a facemask to protect my lungs because the air was so thick with smog. Even after I went home and was able to live mask-free, I felt sad for the people who lived there since they weren’t able to breathe fresh air. I also hoped that America would never become so polluted that its citizens would need to wear masks. A final recent inspiration for my commitment to the environment has come from my sister who has decided to live a zero-waste life. I have been learning a great deal from her about how much trash one person generates in his or her lifetime, and how even a small act (such as not using straws) can impact the environment for the better.

As I was in the process of making small changes in my day-to-day life in order to be more environmentally friendly (and trying to inspire others to do the same), an opportunity arose that challenged me to do even more. This summer, as an intern in the Cargo department of Delta Air Lines, I was responsible for creating and maintaining Tableau dashboards to support the automation of reports for senior leadership. One day, I received an invitation from Georgia Tech to join the Co-op and Internship Carbon Reduction Challenge while on the job this summer. This seemed like the perfect chance for me to make an even bigger impact!

When I signed on for the Challenge, I was assigned to a Delta team that had already formed, which included Emma Brodzik, Tyler Matthews, and Isabella Plonk. We discovered a problem that our team could address, which is that 98.8% of Delta’s greenhouse gas emissions come from mainline and regional jet fuel burn. We wanted to find a project that addressed this emission, to provide a quick ROI, and to start saving the company money right away. The team already consisted of two interns (Emma and Tyler) in the sustainability department. Emma had heard how Hawaiian Airlines reduced their carbon emissions by using the Pratt & Whitney EcoPower engine washing system.

The EcoPower system works by spraying pressurized water through the engine to remove dirt and debris from blades, which allows engines to run more coolly and efficiently. The attractive business and sustainability results? Fuel savings and a reduction in CO2 emissions. We then researched whether Delta washed its planes’ engines. We discovered that of the more than 800 aircraft in Delta’s fleet, about 75% of planes are indeed being washed, and that Delta has the equipment to perform this maintenance. For our project, we decided to focus on the remaining 188 planes that are not currently on a washing maintenance schedule due to the fact that they have leased engines.

Our team worked cohesively from the beginning to the end of the Challenge. As a first step, we gathered information from the Propulsion Engineering team. We then identified assumptions and ran calculations. Finally, we reported findings to the Fuel Council and Propulsion Engineering leadership to encourage the implementation of this project. Once we got in contact with the Propulsion Engineering department, we discovered that the senior leaders had already considered an expansion of their engine-washing program even before we brought our plan to the table. We then felt like we already had one foot in the door and knew we had a good chance of getting the jet engine washing plan implemented!

Although getting face-to-face time with senior leadership is difficult in a large organization such as Delta, having a point person who delivered our proposal on our behalf helped our team immensely. Seth Duncan, an engineer in the Propulsion Operations department, delivered our proposal and worked with us to understand better the costs associated with washing jet engines. (He has continued to keep us informed with implementation updates even after our internships ended.)

As of the last status update, Delta estimates that in October or November of this year, it will begin washing the largest of the four fleets not currently on the wash cycle—the MD-90 fleet. We hope that the other three fleets will be added to washing schedule soon as well. (There is a delayed start since Delta needs to add more engine washing stations.) We are all excited to see our project come to life! My teammate Emma is continuing to work at Delta throughout the Fall 2017 semester, and she said she will provide the team with updates, too.

Overall, I discovered that tackling the Carbon Reduction Challenge in addition to fulfilling my day-to-day responsibilities gave me an additional sense of purpose at my internship. I felt proud of the fact that my teammates and I were able to deliver a proposal that would save considerable CO2 emissions from the environment and also create substantial savings for Delta. It’s amazing that a short-term internship can potentially make such a huge impact!

I now know that no matter what industry I work in after graduation, I will always strive for sustainability measures both big and small. Participating in this Challenge has shown me that that pitching an idea to senior leadership is not impossible! And once the project is approved, the rewards are immeasurable.

The Challenge is funded by a grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation's NextGen Committee and the Scheller College Dean's Innovation Fund, and is an affiliated project of the Georgia Tech Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.

Elizabeth Jang is studying Industrial Engineering in the College of Engineering, This past summer she was an IT intern for OCC & Cargo at Delta Airlines

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