JetBlue's carbon emissions show 8 per cent growth last year but improvement in fuel efficiency performance
JetBlue should start taking deliveries of the Airbus A320neo in 2018 (graphic: Airbus)
Fri 5 May 2017 – Carbon emissions from operations by US carrier JetBlue amounted to just under 7.5 million tonnes in 2016, an increase of 8.4% compared to the previous year as a result of higher passenger volume that saw revenue passenger miles rise by 9.3%. Also contributing to the emissions increase, says JetBlue in its latest annual sustainability report, was a change in physical operating conditions as a result of congested airspace in the Northeast region of the United States causing increased fuel burn from occasional longer taxi times at airports. While emissions increased overall, however, the airline says its greenhouse gas intensity decreased by 0.62% on the previous year and 4.9% since its 2008 baseline reporting year. To meet CO2 reduction targets, JetBlue has set goals to save 500,000 gallons of fuel burn per year through enhanced technology, integrating biofuel into all flight operations and transitioning its airport ground equipment to all-electric where feasible.
Last year, JetBlue entered into what it claims is the largest, long-term binding biofuel commitment for any airline by signing an agreement with bioenergy company SG Preston to purchase 33 million gallons of blended HEFA jet fuel per year for at least 10 years (see article). It expects renewable fuel will account for around 20% of annual fuel consumption at its New York JFK hub in time, with first deliveries expected by 2019. In 2016 it became the first US airline to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.
“Renewable jet fuel is a key aspect of JetBlue’s emissions reduction strategy that will enable us to meet our goal for long-term fuel use and emissions reduction,” says the airline in its 2016 Responsibility Report. “In addition, the use of renewable alternative fuels reduces our compliance costs in jurisdictions where emissions are highly regulated as well as the future cost of complying with the ICAO CORSIA scheme, and diversifies our fuel portfolio, which decreases the risk of oil price volatility.”
JetBlue is also investing heavily in equipping its aircraft with technology to take advantage of fuel and emissions savings expected from the efficiencies gained through implementation of the FAA’s NextGen air transportation system. NextGen promises flying more direct routes, optimisation of flight speeds and improving descent patterns.
The airline started the process in 2012 by equipping 35 aircraft with NextGen technology and aims to have the entire fleet equipped by 2019. In 2015, it says it saved more than 150,000 gallons of fuel and 1,451 tonnes of emissions through the technology. Further reductions were achieved in 2016 from its Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean operations.
During 2016, 12 new Airbus A321 aircraft were delivered, with a further 15 expected this year. Deliveries on orders for the new-engined A320neo family aircraft start in 2018, all equipped with sharklet wing-tip devices, and should improve fuel economy by 15%. JetBlue began retrofitting the Airbus narrowbody fleet with sharklets in 2015 – which have the potential to increase fuel efficiency up to 4% on long-haul flights – and currently 49 out of the 167 Airbus aircraft and all Embraer planes have sharklets installed.
On the ground, by transitioning from diesel fuel to electric vehicles, JetBlue estimates an annual reduction of 270 tonnes of GHG emissions, as well as other emissions to help reduce air pollution. Though dependent on usage, one vehicle saves an average of 10 tonnes of CO2e annually, it says. In 2016, the airline completed a first trial of electric ground equipment at JFK and following its success has purchased 20 new electric vehicles for the California airports it serves, and plans further expansion in 2017.
Mindful of the risk posed by the increased frequency of extreme weather events brought on by climate change, JetBlue has created a multi-tier plan to address weather events and mitigate storm effects when they do hit. The plan has detailed responses for various levels of operational impact, outlining the associated communication plan and each department’s role in helping to prepare for the storm and then restore the operation after it passes.
The JetBlue report reveals that it offset 144,000 tonnes of CO2e in 2016. The purchased offsets support an Amazon tropical rainforest REDD+ project and 18,500 trees were also planted in California’s Angeles National Forest in 2016. The airline encourages its customers to also offset their emissions when booking. Since 2008, it has offset over 1.7 billion pounds (771,100 tonnes) of CO2e.
The airline also reports its recycling adoption rate for domestic flights was 82% in 2016. Across all US flights, it estimates it has prevented the release of 3,850 tonnes CO2e as a result of recycling nearly 60 million bottles and cans since 2013.
This year’s report has been produced according to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standard for the airline industry, which maintains reporting standards for the disclosure of material sustainability information to investors. Available in provisional form for 79 industries including airlines, the standards are designed to be cost-effective for companies and decision-useful for investors, providing both the ability to compare and benchmark performance.
“Sustainability is about smart business and transparency,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, JetBlue’s Director of Sustainability. “As one of the first companies and the first airline to report according to SASB’s intensive standards, our focus is on smart disruption. We are not relying on the status quo for sustainability reporting. SASB’s industry-specific standards help us present the most useful information to our investors, further tying sustainability to our bottom-line.
“Environmental and social responsibility are critical to our long-term success.”
This article was updated 15 May 2017 as a result of an error in the JetBlue report. Emissions increased 8.41% in 2016 while revenue passenger miles increased 9.3%, not 1.08% and 9.1% respectively as reported previously.