EasyJet becomes first major net-zero carbon emissions airline and joins Airbus in electric aircraft research
EasyJet A320neo (photo: Airbus)
Tue 19 Nov 2019 – From today, European low-cost carrier easyJet will offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of its flights. The move will cost an estimated £25 million ($32m) a year that will not be passed on to customers, says the airline. In a partnership with advisory company Climate Focus, only carbon offset programmes which meet either the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) accreditation have been selected. The airline has also formed partnerships with project developers EcoAct and First Climate. Selected projects include forest conservation in South America and Africa, a large solar installation in India and clean water in Uganda and Eritrea. Carbon offsetting is only an interim measure while new technologies emerge to decarbonise aviation, says easyJet, and it has also announced an MoU with Airbus on a hybrid and electric aircraft research project.
“Climate change is an issue for all of us,” commented the airline’s CEO Johan Lundgren. “At easyJet, we are tackling this challenge head on by choosing to offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all our flights, starting today. In doing so, we are committing to operating net-zero flights across our network – a world first by a major airline.”
EasyJet says it has undertaken “a rigorous process” in selecting its carbon offset programmes to ensure carbon reductions would not have happened without that project or that by reducing carbon emissions in one place they do not inadvertently increase them elsewhere. The airline said it is specifying that its projects should include regular monitoring, auditing and reporting, and in many cases also contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty, good health and wellbeing, gender equality, and clean water and sanitation. Each project has been chosen to provide a different method of removing carbon from the atmosphere or reducing carbon emissions, and split into nature-based, renewable energy and community projects.
Headquartered in Amsterdam, Climate Focus has helped easyJet on selecting projects and partners, and develop its offset project portfolio. It is also advising the airline on its ongoing offset management process and how it will set up its own bespoke offsetting projects in the future.
“This is an exciting development from easyJet, which is obviously taking the issue of climate change very seriously,” commented Jonathon Porritt, Co-Founder of Forum for the Future. “But as is now widely understood, carbon offsetting can only be a bridge to future technological developments, and it will be important to seek out each and every way of reducing carbon emissions. Beyond that, the whole industry needs to come together more effectively to decarbonise this critical sector just as quickly as possible.”
While we acknowledge offsetting is only an interim measure, we want to take action on carbon now, said Lundgren.
“I am therefore delighted that we have also announced today a new electric plane partnership with Airbus,” he said. “We will be working together to identify the detailed technical challenges and requirements for electric and electric hybrid planes when deployed for short-haul flying around Europe. We hope this will be an important step towards making electric planes a reality.”
The two companies will cooperate on three work packages to define the impacts and the requirements necessary for the large-scale introduction of next-generation aircraft on infrastructure and everyday commercial aircraft operations.
“Environmental performance is a top-level priority for Airbus, and we are proud to have easyJet on board as a partner for our hybrid and electric aircraft research,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO. “Airbus is committed to meeting aviation’s decarbonisation objectives. By focusing our research efforts on hybrid and electric propulsion technologies, we are doing just that – playing a leading role, alongside our customers, in the development of clean and safe technologies for the sustainable future of our industry.”
The airline said the collaboration would support and continue alongside its ongoing work with US start-up Wright Electric, which is aiming to build an all-electric 180-seater commercial passenger jet capable of flying passengers across easyJet’s UK and European network within a decade.
Wright Electric has commenced work on an electric engine that will power a nine-seater aircraft and its partner Axter Aerospace already has a two-seater aircraft flying. The larger aircraft is expected to start flying in the coming weeks, reports easyJet, with a prototype propulsion system four times more powerful than that installed on the two-seater.
The airline said it is also talking to Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Safran about new technological developments to radically reduce the carbon footprint of flying.
“We also want to champion new carbon capture technologies like direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) and sustainable aviation fuels by looking to use them as they become available and commercially available, which they are not today,” it added.
Lundgren called on governments to support aviation decarbonisation efforts. “In particular, they must reform aviation taxes to incentivise efficient behaviour, fund research and development in new technology and ensure early movers such as easyJet are not penalised,” he said.
EasyJet has just ordered 12 more Airbus A320neo aircraft, which takes the carrier’s total order for the A320neo Family to 159 aircraft and is the largest customer in Europe for the type. Out of a total fleet of 333 A320 Family aircraft, there are currently 39 A320neos. Airbus says they are 20% more fuel efficient compared to previous generation A320s and emit 50% less noise.
The airline said it was continuing to look to increase the fuel efficiency of its current fleet and reduce onboard weight. With taxiing averaging 20 minutes per flight – the equivalent of around four million miles a year – single-engine taxiing is deployed wherever possible, it said. EasyJet’s Recaro seats are 26% lighter than previous seats and cockpit laptops and printed navigational charts had been replaced by Panasonic Toughpads, leading to a reduction of over 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions for the airline each year. The airline is to introduce electric towbarless aircraft tugs to its entire operation at London Gatwick to perform pushbacks on its fleet of 60 aircraft at the airport.
Since 2000, easyJet said it had reduced its carbon emissions per passenger kilometre by 33.67% to 78.46 grams.
“EasyJet has a long tradition of efficient flying – the aircraft we fly and the way we fly them means easyJet is already more efficient than many airlines,” said Lundgren. “However, our priority is to continue to work on reducing our carbon footprint in the short term, coupled with long-term work to support the development of new technology, including electric planes, which aspire to radically reduce the carbon footprint of aviation.
“People have a choice in how they travel and people are now thinking about the potential carbon impact of different types of transport. But many people still want to fly and if people choose to fly, we want to be one of the best choices they can make.”
Data consultancy Refinitiv estimates easyJet’s carbon emissions for 2018 amounted to about 7 million tonnes, around 10% of total European aviation emissions.
“EasyJet and other airlines operating within Europe are already exposed through the EU ETS to a carbon price (EUA) for part of their emissions,” commented Hæge Fjellheim, Head of Carbon Research. “The estimated cost of £25 million by easyJet translates into a price of £3.50 (€4.00) per tonne CO2. In comparison, the EUA price is currently at €23 per tonne.
“Today’s move will need more airlines to follow suit if we are to see some meaningful impact. While European power and industry emissions are in decline, aviation sector emissions have increased and are expected to grow in the years ahead. In 2018, aviation emissions covered by the EU ETS increased by nearly 6%.”