Airline improvement in efficiency outweighed by overall growth in CO2 emissions, finds annual ranking
Tue 9 Dec 2014 – The latest analysis by German climate company atmosfair of the airline industry’s carbon footprint shows the world’s largest airlines decreased their emissions by around one per cent in 2012 compared to the previous year when calculated on a per passenger and per kilometre basis. At the same time, total carbon emissions from the sector increased by around three per cent, driven by a rise in traffic volume of almost five per cent. The atmosfair Airline Index (AAI) 2014 compared the emissions of 193 airlines worldwide to evaluate their CO2 efficiency, and covered 31.2 million flights representing 92% of worldwide air traffic. With their higher seating densities and load factors, combined with modern aircraft fleets, charter carriers such TUIfly, Monarch and SunExpress achieved the highest rankings, with TAM, KLM and Japan Airlines doing well amongst national scheduled carriers.
The increasing efficiency of CO2 performance can be largely attributed to the replacement of older aircraft with new models and the retrofitting of aircraft with aerodynamic winglets, says atmosfair, which also takes into account the density of seating and passenger load factors.
However, points out atmosfair Managing Director Dr Dietrich Brockhagen, “the latest index shows the efficiency potential for airlines is becoming more limited with time. Airliners that are much more efficient than the Airbus A380 or the Boeing 787 will not be built in the near future. In addition, it appears to be difficult for the large airlines to increase the average occupancy across all flights to over 70%, even with the best logistics.”
Under the AAI ranking system, each airline can achieve up to 100 efficiency points for short, medium and long haul routes, which can allow travellers to compare airlines for a given destination and choose the one producing the least CO2, says atmosfair.
The differences among the airlines can be considerable, says Brockhagen, with the fuel consumption – and therefore carbon emissions – of one airline more than double that of another. The airlines that achieve the best scores are the ones that use modern aircraft, pay attention to the route distance, accommodate a lot of seats, and then use the seats as well as the belly hold to their highest capacity, he says.
The index also categorises the airlines by efficiency class. As in previous years, no airline reached Class A, although the number of airlines in Class B rose by one to 15.
Among the scheduled carriers, Chinese carrier Okay Airways, which operates with modern Boeing 737-800 aircraft with very high seating density and high occupancy rates, had the highest ranking.
Air Mauritius was the best African network carrier due to its predominantly efficient fleet and the frequent use of ATR42s on short distance routes. TAN Linhas Aereas was the highest ranked South American network carrier because of its efficient fleet with above average seating capacity and high load factors. The most efficient North American carrier was, once again, Air Transat, which although has a mix of inefficient and efficient aircraft, enjoys high occupancy rates as it tends to operate on a more limited seasonal basis than most scheduled airlines.
The major carriers like Emirates, despite operating the most modern of fleets, do not feature at the top of the index as their widebody jets have less seating then average. Emirates, however, scored more points this year due to an occupancy rate higher than the average and was ranked 19th overall, the highest of the Gulf carriers. United Airlines, ranked 61st, is an example of a major that scores comparatively well on middle and long distance routes but loses points on short-haul routes due to lower than average occupancy, as well as using inefficient Boeing 747-400s on long-haul destinations.
“It appears that climate efficiency is not a question of country of origin,” explained Brockhagen. “Anyone who has a modern fleet that they can adapt well to the flight schedule and combines technology with operations achieves a high score, regardless of whether in Europe, Asia or South America.”
Low cost carriers are treated as a separate category within the index since atmosfair regards them as special cases since many of them receive subsidies and generate flights that they could not otherwise have offered at such low prices, and so stimulate more flights and subsequent CO2 emissions. As many of these airlines operate to regional airports that might require further ground travel and additional CO2 than in the case of hub to hub flights, this too is taken into account. The best budget airlines – which include Aer Lingus Regional, AirAsia, easyJet, IndiGo, LionAir, Norwegian, Ryanair, Spring Airlines and Thai AirAsia – appear in Efficiency Class B, while most are in Class C and some even in Class D.