Airberlin targets three litre fuel consumption within five years to maintain its eco-efficiency leadership
Hartmut Mehdorn presents airberlin's first sustainability report (photo: airberlin)
Tue 18 Sept 2012 – Germany’s second-largest airline airberlin achieved a fuel efficiency of 3.5 litres per 100 passenger kilometres flown in 2011 compared to the industry’s scheduled airline average of 4.7. Launching the publication of the airline’s first sustainability report yesterday, airberlin CEO Hartmut Mehdorn said the airline had been a pioneer on climate and environmental protection issues and was a role model for the industry. At an average age of 5.3 years, compared to the IATA average of just under 14 years, Airberlin has one of the youngest fleets for a full-service scheduled airline in Europe, he said, and from 2001 was an early adopter of fuel-saving winglets on its aircraft. The carrier has also introduced a programme in which 60 of its pilots are being trained as ‘fuel coaches’, who will then pass on their expertise to other pilots. Mehdorn criticised national and EU politicians over aviation taxes that reduced the competitiveness of EU carriers and the lack of progress on the Single European Sky.
“Aviation is an energy-intensive industry so we have a special responsibility that we must live up to,” said Mehdorn. “For many years we have had an internal programme in which we have tried to effect ecological improvements. It is clear we have an economic motivation to be as fuel efficient as possible and it goes without saying that we want to protect our environmental resources. Our passengers want this as well. The people who care about this are an important target group for us.”
Airberlin says its fuel efficiency has been improving by around 2% per year, with fuel consumption falling from 3.70 litres per 100 passenger kilometres in 2008 to 3.50 in 2011.
“We have already achieved a great deal but we would like to improve still further,” said Mehdorn. “Our target is clear: over the next five years we want to reduce the fuel consumption of our fleet to an average of three litres.”
The airline started a fleet modernisation programme in 2008 by replacing ageing Fokker 100 aircraft with fuel efficient Bombardier Q400 turboprops. The following year Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft were also retired, with Airbus A330s now used on long-haul flights. Airberlin has 15 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners on order, which will start joining the fleet from 2015, and has combined its 787 programme with that of its strategic partner Etihad Airways in order to take advantage of synergy effects.
Older generation Boeing 737 Classic aircraft have been replaced with Next Generation 737-700 and -800 aircraft, along with the Airbus A320 family. Each of its 14 Airbus A320/321 aircraft on order will be equipped with the new ‘Sharklet’ wing-tip devices that promise fuel savings of up to 3.5%. Every Boeing airplane delivered is equipped with CFM’s ‘tech-insertion’ engines that are considerably more fuel efficient and quieter than their predecessors.
With aircraft noise becoming an increasingly important German issue, noise reduction is at the top of the environmental agenda, said Mehdorn. All bar five of airberlin’s 152 aircraft meet ICAO’s Chapter IV standard. New techniques have been developed as part of a joint research project with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), German ATC and Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport in which satellite navigation is being used in curved approaches to avoid flying over residential areas wherever possible.
“But there are other areas where we are active too,” said Mehdorn. He says the airberlin has adopted an integrated approach to fuel savings which covers every phase of flight, from flight planning to the flight phase and on the ground. The airline’s fuel efficiency programme is made up of 44 individual measures.
On board the aircraft, airberlin has moved to paperless cockpits and lightweight catering trolleys and passenger seats. Last month it signed a deal with Jettainer in which 750 containers (ULDs) will gradually be replaced by modern lighter versions for use on its A330 long-haul fleet. The airline estimates this will lower the fuel consumption of each aircraft by more than 30,000 litres per year and reduce carbon emissions by 1,100 tons per aircraft. Jettainer also manages the ULDs for partner airline Etihad, so the two carriers will benefit from logistical synergies.
On the ramp, airberlin pilots only start engines when the aircraft has been pushed back from the boarding bridge and use ground power instead of the aircraft’s APU while at the bridge. Single-engine taxiing from runway to the gate is used whenever possible. Regular engine washing too enhances fuel efficiency.
In the air, precise altitude and wind profiles are used to determine the optimal cruise altitude for each flight. The airline uses Lido management software to calculate the most fuel-efficient route.
The satellite-based Ground Based Augmentation System approach procedure permits approach angles to be varied, which allows pilots to avoid flying over noise sensitive areas. Airberlin is the first German airline to have initiated satellite-based precision landings using the RNP-AR procedure, which makes it possible to fly curved approaches in mountainous terrains and bad weather conditions, as well as have the potential to reduce noise and emissions.
These practices are incorporated into airberlin’s Fuel Coaching programme in which 60 pilots are currently training to become ‘fuel coaches’. Once they have completed their training, the coaches will pass on their expertise to other pilots on fuel efficiency flights.
Over the longer term, airberlin is backing initiatives to progress sustainable alternative aviation fuels and has joined the German aireg association. It sees biofuels as having an important part to play in achieving the industry’s 2020 carbon-neutral growth goal as long as the biomass used is sustainably produced and processed. “Airberlin is adamant about distancing itself from the non-sustainable production of agricultural commodities that are in competition with the food chain,” it maintains in the report.
The aviation industry is not enjoying the best of reputations at the moment, admitted Mehdorn at the presentation. “But we are better than our image.” The report contends the industry has had a communication problem and has not been able to adequately inform the general public about its progress in improving energy efficiency and reducing noise. It points to an independent German survey undertaken a year ago in which only 14% of respondents could accurately estimate how much fuel a modern commercial aircraft uses to transport a passenger a distance of 100kms – the correct answer being four litres. Over three quarters believed it to be 20 or more litres, with the favoured answer being 40 litres, or roughly five to 10 times more than an average car.
Mehdorn said the aviation industry had identified the steps it needed to take to reach its own target of carbon-neutral growth by 2020 but achieving it also required political will and support. In Germany and Europe, he noted, governments had tended to be an obstacle rather than a help. In a competitive global industry, German airlines were at a disadvantage because of the scale of the aviation taxes they were obliged to pay, he said. “There has to be a global setup for fair competition.”
Another problem was the air traffic route structure within Europe that led to zig-zagging flights and unnecessary holding patterns, he said, which resulted in increased fuel consumption, and therefore carbon emissions, as well as aircraft noise. The Single European Sky had the potential to reduce CO2 by between seven and 12 per cent, he said. “We need to set new political priorities, which we lack. We don’t see the political measures that are necessary for the Single European Sky – we haven’t seen them for 30 years. It’s sad and tragic that European politics isn’t making any progress on something that is so important.”
The report describes the current international impasse over the EU Emissions Trading Scheme as an “intolerable situation” and a global rather than regional neutral system had to be established through ICAO. “Emissions don’t stop at the EU’s border. Only a global solution alone could help with this problem,” it concludes.