FedEx CEO commits to his freighter fleet meeting 30 percent of its aviation fuel use from biofuels by 2030
Frederick W. Smith, CEO, FedEx speaking at US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit
Fri 15 May 2009 – FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith says the global logistics corporation is aiming to have 30 percent of its air transportation fuel needs met by second generation biofuels by 2030. At a conference in Washington DC, he called for funding of alternative fuel research be stepped up. FedEx, the world’s biggest freight carrier, has planned to cut its aviation CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 through fleet replacement and other initiatives (see story). At the same conference, Lufthansa CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber said his airline has targeted a 25% cut in CO2 emissions per kilometre flown by 2020.
The environment issue, said Smith, was of great importance but the aviation industry had been for some time trying to minimize noise, lower emissions and look for alternatives to petroleum.
“Concerning noise control, FedEx and many carriers have worked for years to reduce noise through quieter aircraft and better abatement procedures such as reduced power climbs and improved descent patterns,” Smith told delegates at a US Chamber of Commerce aviation conference in Washington DC.
“According to a 2006 FAA report to Congress, there has been an astounding 95% reduction in the number of people affected by aircraft noise in the US in the last 35 years. Worldwide, between 1998 and 2004 the number of people exposed to aircraft noise was down by about 35%. Best of all, aircraft engines are 75% quieter than they were 40 years ago. Manufacturers have done an outstanding job in improving engine noise performance.”
Smith confirmed FedEx will soon be replacing the MD-11 aircraft used on its long-range routes to new 777 freighters and will be phasing out its elderly short-haul Boeing 727s with newer 757s, which Smith said were 47% more fuel efficient. He said that modernization of the US air traffic management system could bring a further 10-12% reduction in emissions.
The most innovative methods in aviation today focus on alternative fuels, stated Smith. “These fuels have reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum, their production does not compromise fresh water and land use requirements, and they do not rely on critical feedstocks such as those used in first generation biofuels. Second generation biofuels include inedible plants such as jatropha, algae, switchgrass and camelina.
“These non-fossil fuels must be capable of being easily mixed with existing petroleum-based aviation fuels which use existing infrastructure so that over time we will be using less fossil fuel as commercially feasible alternative fuels are developed on a larger scale.”
Smith outlined a ‘30 by 30’ goal which proposes that 30% of aviation fuel used by FedEx should come from alternative fuels by 2030.
“We pledge our support for environmentally-friendly alternative fuel projects which we believe should be stepped up through the use of funds designated for fuel research in the current stimulus efforts,” he said. “Of course, in all of this, maintaining the very highest levels of safety is absolutely essential.
“One of the most important things we can do besides developing alternative fuels for aviation is to use electricity for more of our short-haul driving.
“Petroleum fuels will the primary power for long-haul transportation such as aviation, rail and trucking for decades to come. However, most personal driving is less than 40 miles a day – even our FedEx pickup and delivery vans average less than 100 miles a day. I realize this is not an aviation issue but we already have the infrastructure for electrification and going electric for short-haul transportation can importantly affect the amount of petroleum – much more than biofuel – used for aviation.”
Smith also said the US “must turn back the tide of protectionism” of its aviation industry and for all market barriers to be “torn down once and for all, for the benefit of all”. There was, he believed, a potential threat of “an all-out trade war” with Europe if the US did not open up its airlines to foreign ownership, which “will not benefit anyone, especially the US carriers which provide international services”.
Wolfgang Mayrhuber, CEO of Lufthansa, said the US should see foreign ownership not as a threat but as an opportunity.
He also said it was very important for the aviation industry as a whole to address public concerns over climate change and should be taken as seriously as it takes safety and other issues.
“We at Lufthansa are core believers in a strategy where you look at the environmental issues not only from one angle but at the whole picture. That is why we embarked on the four-pillar strategy adopted by IATA. The main priority in tackling the root cause [of emissions growth] must be technology. That is where we have a huge opportunity if manufacturers and airlines work together. Technology is the force that drives improvements far better than anything else.”
He said that third generation biofuels were not only on their way but were very promising as they didn’t compete with the food chain.
Economic measures were also possible, he said, but in his opinion they had the least effect “because they tended to benefit the traders rather than the environment. We at Lufthansa do not see them as a main priority.”
He supported IATA’s aim towards carbon neutral growth for the industry and said it was important that every airline should set itself targets which should be widely communicated and CEOs be held responsible for achieving them. “Lufthansa has a clear goal that by 2020 we plan to cut the CO2 per kilometre flown by 25% in comparison to the 2006 figure. That is an ambitious target but I believe we have the tools to achieve it.”
This 5hr 30min webcast features full speeches presented at the one-day conference. Apart from Fred Smith (whose speech starts at 00:11:23 into the webcast) and Wolfgang Mayrhuber (relevant comments at 03:20:30), there was a session entitled ‘Clear Skies: How Aviation Innovation Leads the Green Curve’ moderated by Nancy Young, Vice President, Environmental Affairs, Air Transport Association of America and with presentations by Chet Fuller, General Manager, Marketing, GE Aviation; Billy Glover, Managing Director – Environmental Strategy Boeing Commercial Airplanes; and Carl Burleson, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator, Policy, Planning, and Environment, FAA. The session starts at 03:32:30.