Latest atmosfair airline CO2 efficiency rankings show global air traffic growing at twice the rate of emissions
China West Air Airbus A320
Fri 13 Jan 2017 – An analysis by German climate protection organisation atmosfair of 32 million flights in 2014, covering 92% of global aviation traffic, shows CO2 emissions increased by 3% over the previous year, about half the rate of their traffic volume growth. The annual atmosfair Airline Index (AAI) compares airline emissions by city pairs of more than 200 airlines worldwide from a range of respected independent data sources and evaluates and ranks those airlines by their respective CO2 efficiency. It finds those airlines investing in new aircraft models with high seating configurations and load factors performed best in improving their carbon efficiency. As to be expected, regional and leisure airlines headed the AAI table, with a Chinese airline, China West Air, achieving the highest ranking. China is now catching up with the EU in terms of efficiency, says atmosfair, with 10 airlines, compared to 16 from Europe, in the top 50.
“Climate efficiency knows no country of origin,” said atmosfair Managing Director, Dr Dietrich Brockhagen. “The airline that knows how to adapt its modern fleet to demand and how to ideally combine technology with operations will achieve high rankings, whether that airline comes from Europe, Asia or South America.”
The 2016 AAI report estimates that the overall average efficiency gain by all airlines resulted in 1.9% less CO2 per passenger kilometre since last year’s index. However, Brockhagen believes the progress is not enough in global climate terms.
“Our results show that global air traffic is not on target, neither for the 1.5⁰C nor the 2⁰C goals from Paris,” he said. “While some airlines have been able to significantly improve their CO2 efficiency by purchasing new aircraft, the overall technical development is not rapid enough in light of increasing traffic volume.”
The analysis of data from sources such as ICAO, IATA, OAG and FlightGlobal included 22,300 city pairs, and efficiency differences between airlines can be substantial, finds atmosfair. Fuel consumption per passenger and kilometre on the same route can be twice as high for one airline compared to another. The best results, it says, are achieved by airlines that use modern aircraft that ideally fit to the respective flight distance, have high seating capacity and good occupancy rates for passengers and freight.
To compile the index, CO2 emissions are computed for all flown routes and include the aircraft type, engines, use of winglets, and seating and freight capacity, as well as their utilisation on every flight. Airlines are awarded efficiency points between 0 and 100, separated into short (<800km), medium (800-3800km) and long haul (>3800km) distances. The efficiency points are then assigned to seven efficiency classes from A to G – similar to the EU energy efficiency label. The index covers four airline categories: network, low-cost, charter and regional carriers but does not take into consideration different airline business models.
By 2014, the year of the data compilation for the latest index, the highly efficient Boeing 787 was only just beginning to make an impact and the Airbus A350 did not start commercial operations until early 2015. Since new aircraft do not make up the majority of the fleet for any carrier, reports atmosfair, no carrier reached efficiency class A, and only the top 10 made it into class B.
Regional carrier China West Air, which carried 4.3 million passengers in the reference year, topped the AAI ranking for the first time, reaching 83% of the technically achievable optimal potential due, says atmosfair, to its very dense seating and very high occupancy. The Chongqing-based airline, which was founded in 2006, has a fleet of 27 Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft with an average age of 3.4 years.
TUIfly was ranked the best charter airline worldwide through its use of efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 737-800 that maximises seating configurations and the carrier’s high occupancy levels. LATAM Brasil (formed from the merger of TAM and LAN) was ranked the highest network carrier, followed by Air Berlin. Other network carriers featuring in the top 30 rankings were Royal Brunei, KLM, Jet Airways, Shenzhen, Virgin Auustralia, Sichuan, Avianca, Alaska and Emirates.
Low-cost carriers are rated separately because, says atmosfair, they often benefit from subsidies and therefore can offer artificially low ticket prices compared to distances flown and therefore produce CO2 emissions that otherwise would not have been created in the first place. The best low cost carriers were ranked in efficiency class B – which included Aer Lingus Regional, AirAsia, easyJet, IndiGo, Indonesia AirAsia, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Spring Airlines and Thai AirAsia – but the majority were in class C and some even in D.
Non-profit atmosfair was founded in 2004 following a research project for the German government and advises organisations on reducing CO2 emissions at source through, for example using video conferencing instead of business travel. Remaining CO2 emissions are compensated on behalf of clients and individuals through CDM gold standard offsets. By using the index, environmentally-conscious travellers can choose the most efficient carriers on a given route.