Costa Rica's NatureAir becomes the first airline to join the United Nations' Climate Neutral Network
A NatureAir Twin Otter
Fri 21 Nov 2008 – Having laid claim to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral airline, Costa Rica-based NatureAir has now joined the Climate Neutral Network (CN Net), an initiative led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote global action towards low-carbon economies and societies. In 2004, the airline pledged to offset all its carbon emissions through the purchase of government carbon credits, paid for by increasing fares, and used for the protection of tropical forests in southern Costa Rica.
“With the airline industry contributing an estimated 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions – nearly as much as the entire African continent – it is vital that solutions to the climate change challenge come from within the industry itself,” commented UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner. “I welcome NatureAir to the Climate Neutral Network as a trailblazer on the path to zero emissions air travel.”
Based at San Jose’s Tobias Bolanos Airport, NatureAir has grown from flying 18,000 passengers in its first year back in 2000 to more than 150,000 in 2007, establishing itself as one of Central America’s fastest growing regional carriers. During the first nine months of this year it carried 140,000 passengers across its 17 destinations throughout Costa Rica and Panama.
It operates 74 daily flights with a fleet of eight aircraft, mainly Twin Otters, and has managed to improve fuel efficiency by 7% in the last three years through crew training, reducing aircraft weight and improved flight planning. NatureAir has also set up a subsidiary fuel company which has converted the airline’s ground fleet to biofuels and is working with the Costa Rican government in becoming a biofuel station for third party companies.
“In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint, we have found that sharing our knowledge and lessons learned is the best way to assist other companies in improving their sustainability programmes,” said NatureAir Founder and CEO, Alex Khajavi. “With the help of CN Net we can bridge the gap and encourage more aviation companies to turn carbon neutral.”
The company went carbon neutral in 2004 and rather than asking passengers to make a voluntary contribution to offset their carbon emissions, it instead decided to put up ticket prices to cover the purchase of the carbon credits from the government’s pioneering ‘payment for environmental services’ scheme. Although fares are around 20% higher than the competition, NatureAir says it has increased its annual revenues five-fold since implementing the programme.
“The success of the company’s performance can be attributed to numerous factors, including its commitment to environmental and social responsibility, its safety record and its reliability with a region-leading 93% on-time performance record for over four years,” explained Khajavi, who says NatureAir was founded on the principle that an airline can be fun, reliable and make a positive impact on the destinations it serves.
The airline launched a blog in October that aims to help educate readers on sustainable travel and keep people informed and involved in Costa Rica as an ecotourist destination.
Costa Rica itself is aiming to become climate neutral by 2021, when it celebrates 200 years of independence, and was among the first four countries to join CN Net.