Airlines report continued improvements in fuel efficiency as industry comfortably ahead on short-term global goal
Thu 4 Jun 2015 – Recently released sustainability reports from five major airline groups show that fuel efficiency continues to improve in the industry although carbon emissions are increasing as a result of growing traffic. Airlines are striving to meet the industry’s collective short-term goal of a 1.5% annual improvement in fuel efficiency until 2020 but heavy investment in new aircraft and technologies such as wingtip devices is paying off, according to the aviation industry umbrella group ATAG. It reports the overall industry fuel efficiency improvement is currently averaging 2.9% though it does not expect to maintain this level until the end of the decade. Delta, the United States’ second biggest airline in terms of passenger numbers, recorded a 1.93% improvement in 2014 but has ground to make up as its annual average since 2009 is only 1.23% and so below the industry target.
In its Corporate Responsibility Report for 2014, Delta Air Lines says it has decreased its total carbon footprint by 16% since 2005 through a combined fleet, network and fuel and energy savings strategy across all its operations. However, GHG emissions from Scope 1 through 3 activities, which include subsidiary and regional partner flight operations as well as ground operations, began increasing in 2013 as result of an increase in available seat miles that outpaced fuel reduction measures. These emissions totalled nearly 38.9 million tonnes in 2014, a 1.7% increase on 2013, although the airline calculates fuel-saving initiatives saved over 16 million gallons of fuel.
To help push it towards the 1.5% industry goal, the airline is expecting the delivery of more efficient aircraft from 2015 onward, including the replacement of smaller jets with larger Airbus and Boeing aircraft to enable it to carry more passengers with fewer departures, as well as the continued installation of wingtip devices.
Delta maintains an Executive Environmental Leadership Council that is made up of senior executives who help to establish and support sustainability policy, strategy and action plans. In 2014, reports the airline, it oversaw the company’s management on industry engagement on climate change policy at ICAO and performance against the short-term target.
In advance of the medium-term industry goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, Delta has become the first major carrier to adopt a policy of offsetting its growth of carbon emissions. Delta says it has so far purchased 1.7 million carbon offsets as a result of the increase in carbon emissions over a baseline year of 2012. In 2013, over 500,000 CDM credits originally purchased for compliance with the EU ETS were retired against the airline’s 2013 emission levels.
The carrier says it is looking to gain experience in the carbon market ahead of 2020 and is listed among the top 10 voluntary buyers of carbon offsets by the Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace. As well as CDM credits, Delta also purchases credits meeting the Gold Standard and the Verified Carbon Standard, with projects in countries including Brazil, Korea, Peru and Mexico.
Rated by the International Council on Clean Transportation as the most fuel-efficient on US domestic services, the two carriers of the Alaska Air Group, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, have reduced mainline flying emissions intensity by one-third over the last 10 years through fleet advancements and flight technology, according to the group’s 2014 Sustainability Report. These advances, it says, have avoided burning 531 million gallons of fuel since 2004, the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road for a year.
Although the group’s total emissions increased from 2013 to 2014 as traffic rose by 6.5%, emissions intensity – as measured per revenue passenger mile – decreased by 2%. GHG emissions from aircraft operations have been steadily rising since 2010 as a result of a continuous increase in traffic and in 2014 reached nearly 4.5 million tonnes, a rise of 3.8% over 2013.
“Maintaining our goal of reducing our emissions while also pursuing growth and coping with price fluctuations in the oil market is a constant challenge,” said Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden. “We have addressed this by investing in a modern airline fleet of Boeing 737s and retrofitting them with split-scimitar winglets to further improve efficiency. This has helped us reduce our carbon emissions by 30% over the past 10 years.
“For us, sustainability is more than just a buzz word. Our sustainability initiatives embody our core beliefs as a company.”
The passenger fleets within the Lufthansa Group, the world’s second biggest in terms of revenue, managed an average efficiency record of 3.84 litres of fuel per passenger/100km in 2014 compared to 3.91 in 2013, an improvement of 1.6%, and so meeting the industry 1.5% fuel efficiency target. In 2013, the group’s aircraft fleet consumed nearly 8.8 million tonnes of fuel, with CO2 emissions amounting to 27.7 million tonnes.
In the 2014 reporting year, the group’s absolute fuel consumption increased slightly by 0.7%, but with a rise in transport capacity of 1.9%, it is continuing the trend towards decoupling growth in emissions from traffic growth, says Lufthansa.
The efficiency in cargo transportation throughout the group increased by 0.8% in 2014. The fuel efficiency of the Lufthansa Cargo fleet – at 0.183 litres/tonne kilometre – improved 5.2% over 2013.
With the last of 19 Boeing 747-8 aircraft now being put into service – 15% more fuel efficient than its 747-400 predecessor – and 17 new aircraft to be delivered to the group in 2015 alone, further reductions in specific fuel consumption are expected by Lufthansa. By 2025, it is expecting to receive 272 aircraft at a list value of €38 billion ($43bn).
In comparison, rival group Air France-KLM achieved a fuel efficiency of 3.45 litres of fuel per passenger/100km in 2014, a 6.7% improvement on 2011, and compares to around 4.2 litres in 2002. According to its Air France-KLM CSR Report for 2014, the ambition for the group is to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 2011 in terms of tons per kilometre through measures such as fleet renewal, operational efficiencies, sustainable biofuels and carbon offsetting.
In total the group’s aircraft consumed 8.8 million tonnes of fuel in 2014, emitting around 27.7 million tonnes of CO2, which was approximately the same as in 2013 and a small reduction on 2012.
Under its Fuel Plan programme target of a 1% annual reduction in fuel consumption, Air France says it saved 50 million litres of fuel in 2014, equivalent to 126,000 tonnes of CO2. KLM’s Fuel Savings Plan targets a 6 million litre annual fuel saving and reports an achievement of an 8.8 million litre saving in 2014, or around 22,000 tonnes of CO2.
The LATAM Group, which comprises airlines LAN and TAM, has just released its first Sustainability Report. As such, it is light on historical fuel consumption data but reveals the group was able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 298,184 tons in 2014. Its LEAN Fuel and Smart Fuel Programs have implemented at least 20 initiatives, says the report, including investment in fleet renewal, efficiency gains in routes and flight times due to the use of new technologies such as Required Navigation Performance (RNP), the use of platforms for partial disembarkation, control of air conditioning, on-board weight reductions and engine washing.
LATAM’s strategy is to have one of the industry's youngest fleets and currently has 327 aircraft with an average age of less than seven years. It is also working towards the industry’s carbon-neutral growth goal from 2020 and LAN Perú and LAN Colombia are already involved in offsetting emissions from their ground operations and contributing to reforestation projects.
Meanwhile, Airbus officials revealed at a recent press briefing in Toulouse that the industry overall has so far achieved an average 2.9% annual fuel efficiency improvement since 2009, compared to the 1.5% target. This was confirmed by a spokesman for the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), who told GreenAir: “The achievement represents billions of dollars in investment in new aircraft and efficiency measures by the aviation industry. We are confident the 1.5% goal will continue to be met, although we can expect the improvement level to normalise from the pleasingly high figure as the next few years progress. Of course, the more fuel efficient the better and we’ll continue to push for this across the areas of technology, operations and infrastructure.”