Sustainability: Which Airlines Are Leading The Way?

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While “flight shame” may be a more widespread term in some parts of the world rather than others, there is no denying that a pivot towards a more sustainable aviation industry is in the interest of the planet. Let’s take a look at which airlines are prioritizing a greener agenda.

Rolls Royce, UltraFan, construction
Some airlines are prioritizing a green agenda more than others. Photo: Rolls Royce

IATA wants a 50% reduction in CO2 by 2050

Worldwide in 2019, flights produced 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, despite jet aircraft today being more than 80% more fuel-efficient than the first jets from the 1960s. IATA has committed to carbon-neutral airline growth starting next year, and a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Many airlines have launched carbon-offset campaigns, such as Finnair’s Push for Change and KLM’s CO2ZERO. However, there are discussions as to how effective these schemes are. easyJet announced in November of last year it would become the world’s first airline operating net-zero carbon flights. British Airways parent company IAG has also pledged to go net-zero on carbon emissions by 2050. 

State-side, Delta Air Lines has just committed $1 billion to become the first carbon-neutral airline globally. The carrier was the number one airline on a list of America’s Most Sustainable Companies 2020 by finance publication Barron’s.

easyJet and British Airways
easyJet and BA are pledging to go net-zero on carbon emissions. Photo: Getty Images

Aviation biofuel is key

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), such as aviation biofuel, is key to reducing carbon emissions. According to an article from Reuters, aviation biofuel could cut the carbon foot-print of airlines by up to 80%. Unfortunately, it still costs four times as much as regular jet fuel. Many carriers have flown one-off flights partially-powered by bio-fuel, but others are beginning to introduce it more regularly. 

In January 2018, Qantas flew a Dreamliner from Australia to the US with 24,000 kg of blended biofuel, saving 18,000 kg in carbon emissions. Later the same year Virgin Atlantic flew a commercial transatlantic biofuel flight with a Boeing 747 from Orlando to London Gatwick. 

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And in August 2018, SpiceJet operated India’s first flight powered by 25% biofuel from Dehradun to Delhi on a Bombardier Q400.

KLM Biofuel
KLM is set to introduce biofuel at Amsterdam Schiphol. Photo: KLM

Regular biofuel flights

In 2019, Qantas compatriot Virgin Australia announced it has fuelled more than 700 flights using a biofuel known as Gevo.

Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, is also regularly using sustainable fuel sources and has set a goal to have all of its domestic flights be powered solely by biofuel by 2030. This would account for 17% of the carrier’s fuel consumption.

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KLM also regularly powers flights with biofuel and is setting up its own plant in the Netherlands to produce the resource. The airline is also retiring its Boeing 747s as part of its sustainability efforts, running a more efficient fleet overall.

Airports have a significant role to play too. Today, there are only five airports with regular biofuel distribution: Bergen, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Oslo, and Stockholm. Others offer only an occasional supply – although KLM is set to introduce biofuel to its general fuel supply at Schiphol.

hi Fly carbon neutral
Hi Fly was the first airline to operate a plastic-free flight. Photo: Hi Fly

Plastic-free flights and weight reduction

Another issue is cabin waste, which amounts to 6.7 million tonnes every year. Some airlines are taking note and action beyond just removing plastic straws. 

In December 2018, Portuguese carrier Hi Fly operated the world’s first entirely plastic-free flight from Portugal to Brazil, opting for cereal starch and cornstarch cutlery on the Boxing Day long-haul.

In April 2019, Etihad Airways became the first major airline to complete a long-haul flight without any single-use plastic on board after revealing that it had been using some 27 million single-use plastic coffee cup lids per year. Its co-flag-carrier Emirates is calling for all ground vehicles, such as catering and fuelling trucks, to be electrically powered at its hub in Dubai.

Ryanair has vowed to go entirely plastic-free by 2023, also making the switch to biodegradable cutlery and cups. British Airways aims to remove more than 700 tonnes of single-use plastic from its flights by the end of the year. 

Other ways of cutting down CO2 emissions include efforts to reduce weight. British Airways, for example, is installing lighter seats on aircraft, and introducing lighter catering trolleys. 

Etihad was the first major airline to fly plastic-free. Photo: Etihad Airways

Younger fleet equals fewer emissions

Continuously upgrading fleets to more modern and fuel-efficient aircraft is also a big step. You can find a list of airlines with the youngest fleets here. While there will naturally be some set-backs, let’s hope that recent circumstances will not curtail investments into a greener future for the industry for too long.

Is there any carrier whose efforts you would like to see mentioned? Is sustainability a factor for you when choosing who to fly with? Let us know in the comments.

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