Given the fact that air travel seems to be here to stay, it's at least encouraging to note that more and more airlines are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. It's true that, to a large extent, airlines have been motivated by the rising cost of fuel. Still, the good news for conscientious travelers is that airlines are beginning to realize that their sustainability policies are being closely monitored, and that the greener they get, the more likely we are to fly with them. Here are some steps airlines are taking to become more green...
- Modernizing their fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft
- Employing new technologies and fuel efficiency standards to reduce emissions
- Installing winglets (upward-facing wing extensions) to reduce drag and fuel use
- Introducing water-saving and recycling programs
- Removing excess weight
- Reducing airplane idling times
- Offering carbon offset programs
- Improving insulation at airports
- Researching alternative energy sources for jets
Best Practices in the Airline Sector
Although we have a long way to go to reduce the impact air travel has on the environment, technological advances have been made, and more and more effort is being put into making air travel more sustainable. For example...
...the Airbus 380, which made its way to its first commercial customer in October 2007, is 20 to 40 percent more fuel efficient (depending on passenger load) than other available jets.
...Boeing’s Dreamliner claims the same fuel efficiency as the Airbus 380. In addition, it uses fewer materials and creates less waste during production than other available aircraft. The Dreamliner has a one-piece fuselage, which eliminates over 40,000 fasteners and 1,500 sheets of metal from the traditional aircraft design.
In addition, here are some of the ways specific airlines have been striving toward sustainability over the past several years.
Air France has made a number of commitments to fighting climate change: continuing to promote the European Emissions Trading Scheme, continuing to renew its fleet with more fuel-efficient aircraft, offering a carbon calculator and the option to purchase offsets, supporting programs developed by NGOs through financial assistance for environmental projects, promoting the use of renewable energy, and encouraging employees to be involved in environmental action. On the ground, Air France is committed to renewing its fleet of vehicles to reduce air pollution at the airports. (Air France Sustainable Development)
Air New Zealand has been trying to reduce carbon emissions in many ways. For example...showing its pilots graphs of the negative effects of flying with too much extra fuel, pursuing the use of technically viable and non-food-competitive (algae-based) biofuels, and offering its passengers the option to purchase carbon offsets. Air New Zealand has even promoted emissions reductions from employees through “carbonless days&rdquo. In addition, the company founded the Air New Zealand Environment Trust, which supports the protection of the environment in New Zealand. (Air New Zealand Environment Trust)
Alaska Airlines pioneered the use of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) technology to make flights into Juneau more reliable. Now, Alaska Airlines does even more to be sustainable. The airline is switching its fleet from MD-80s to more fuel efficient 737s;. For regional flights, the company plans to switch to efficient turboprop planes. Alaska Airlines has also been installing winglets on its aircraft. On the ground, Alaska Airlines uses ground power and preconditioned air units instead of running jets’ auxiliary power units (APUs) at the gate. These new power use plans are expected to save Alaska Airlines over 1.1 million gallons of fuel per year at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport alone. (Alaska Air Environmental Policy)
American Airlines, established in 1934, is now the world’s largest airline with over 4,000 flights each day. American created what it calls its Fuel Smart Initiative, which focuses on fuel conservation. The airline formed a Fuel Conservation Task Force to implement the Fuel Smart Initiative. This task force began by gathering data on the impact and potential impact of fuel cost, consumption, burn statistics, and the top 12 fuel conservation initiatives. Because of the Fuel Smart research, American uses more Ground Power Units (GPUs) for electricity when parked to reduce jet fuel use and flies the most efficient routes at computer-determined optimal flying speeds for fuel efficiency. American also installs winglets at the ends of each wing in order to reduce drag and conserve fuel. On the ground, American uses Energy Star-certified computers and energy efficient lamps in annex and cargo buildings. (American Airlines Environmental Policy)
British Airways has been working to reduce emissions for years. Since 1990, the airline has reduced fuel consumption by 28 percent and set a new goal to reduce consumption another 25 percent by 2025. The company has also provided its customers with an option to offset their carbon emissions. On the ground at JFK, British Airways uses energy efficient water coolers and lighting. At Heathrow, British Airways Terminal 5 is heated, for the most part, by waste heat from the power station and airport. (British Airways One Destination)
Continental Airlines has been flying since 1984 and now makes over 2900 flights every day. To minimize emissions and maximize efficiency, Continental uses only twin-engine aircraft instead of three- or four-engine planes. Since 1997, Continental has invested 12 billion dollars in new aircraft, which has already reduced Continental’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million metric tons. In addition, Continental cuts down on fuel by using winglets, single engine taxiing, and engine washing. It is trying to reduce weight to reduce emissions and will be introducing a new flight planning system to allow further reductions in fuel usage and emissions. On the ground, the airline uses electric-powered vehicles. Continental also offers carbon offsets.
Delta/Northwest launched a program called EarthCares in December 2007 to make the airline more sustainable. Part of the program includes a $1 million donation to Nature Conservancy, a large part of which will be used to preserve the Mississippi River Valley. In addition, Delta/Northwest has already significantly reduced fuel consumption; the airline used 575 million fewer gallons in 2007 than it did in 2000 (winglets installed on aircraft have contributed to the fuel savings). Between 2000 and 2006, Delta/Northwest reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent. Northwest has been replacing DC10s with the A330, which is 30% more fuel-efficient. In addition, Delta recycled 2 million pounds of waste in 2009, it recycles a million aluminum cans a month, and it even recycles its aircraft carpets. (Delta Airlines Improving the Environment)
Japan Airlines aims to cut emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010 and the company has already achieved a 16 percent reduction. Japan Airlines recently retired 90 aircraft and replaced them with more fuel-efficient airplanes. The airline has ordered an additional 80 planes, some of which are the new Boeing Dreamliner. The airline also recycles all newspapers, magazines, and aluminum cans on every flight and recycles old crew uniforms. Also, Japan Airlines has been working with Boeing and Pratt & Whitney to launch a flight using biofuels. (JAL and the Environment)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines fleet is being upgraded and now consists mostly of the new Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 for intercontinental trips and more fuel efficient Embraer jets for shorter hops. Other methods KLM is using to reduce emissions are winglets on all of its aircraft, improved engine cleaning, choosing which aircraft to fly each route based on average passenger level for the time of year, and contributing to the development of even more efficient aircraft. To control emissions, KLM supports the European Emissions Trading System and promotes a pan-European air traffic control group that will allow for more efficient flight planning. To compensate for the remaining emissions, KLM promises carbon neutral growth, carbon compensation through Gold Standard projects with the World Wide Fund for Nature, and the opportunity for passengers to purchase carbon offsets through their program CO2 Zero. (KLM Sustainable Operations)
Lufthansa aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020 and to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions 80 percent from 2000 levels by 2020 as well. Lufthansa also wants to use a 10 percent blend of biofuel and standard jet fuel by that date. Lufthansa is also modernizing its fleet to include 170 new Airbus 320’s and Boeing 737’s to increase fuel efficiency. Lufthansa is dedicated to reducing air traffic congestion and flying fuel-efficient routes at fuel-efficient speeds. The airline also supports a global emissions trading scheme and green incentives. In addition, passengers are offered the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions. On the ground, Lufthansa is working with linking flights to mass transit (including the ability to check-in for a connecting flight from the Cologne and Stutgaart airports). The airline is committed to green building—the Lufthansa Aviation Centre uses about one-third of the energy that a typical office building consumes. (Lufthansa Environmental Strategy 2020)
Nature Air was established in Costa Rica in 2000. The airline began with only one aircraft, but quickly expanded and now makes 74 flights per day. Nature Air is carbon neutral because the company purchases offsets to support wind farms, solar energy, and forest conservation. Before offsetting, Nature Air works to reduce carbon emissions by providing bus service for employees, using one-engine taxiing, and energy-saving light bulbs. Nature air is also researching the use of ethanol and/or pig waste to power their planes. (Nature Air)
Southwest Airlines will spend $175 million to enable its fleet to fly using Required Navigation Performance (RNP) in order to reduce emissions at an estimated rate of 156,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year; the airline estimates they will also save $25 million in fuel costs with the new system. On the ground, Southwest will switch to gate electric power while passengers deplane and board. Southwest will also use Pratt & Whitney’s EcoPower wash to keep engine compressor blades clean and reduce fuel burn. (Southwest Environmental Initiatives)
United Airlines’ Aircraft Fuel Conservation Program has prevented over 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. To conserve fuel, United has installed winglets on some of its aircraft and practices weight reduction. The United Ground Support Equipment (GSE) fleet consists of 25 percent electric zero emissions and alternatively fueled vehicles. United also has a recycling program in place for both in the air and on the ground operations. In addition, United donates its used computer equipment to "Computers for Schools." (United Airlines Eco-Skies)
Virgin Atlantic Airways flew the world's first commercial aircraft with biofuel, and it has plans to increase fuel efficiency by 30% by the year 2020. It uses a “starting grid” method for take-off, which allows pilots to wait until just 10 minutes before take-off to start their engines. Airplanes are towed (instead of taxied) from the gates to the starting grid where they wait to leave. The tow system also allows planes to shut off their power within 5 minutes of landing. Virgin Atlantic has a very young, energy-efficient fleet of aircraft (with winglets), and it is working to reduce the weight of planes by using lighter-weight paint, removing unnecessary items prior to departure (like drink bottles, newspapers, and other waste accumulated between boarding and take-off), and replacing metal with carbon fiber where possible. The airline employs a Fuel Panel to focus on fuel efficiency and is a leader in researching biofuels for jet engines. In the air, Virgin serves only Fair Trade coffee, has implemented a strong recycling program, and was the first to offer an onboard carbon offset option to its passengers. On the ground, Virgin uses renewable energy at its UK offices and purchases energy-saving appliances. (Virgin Atlantic's Sustainability Programme)