Sustainable aviation initiatives in the spotlight (Dec. 2019/Jan. 2020)

Jets on runway
EasyJet aims to become the first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its network.
Credit: easyjet

The world met in Madrid in December at the United Nations COP25 summit to discuss climate change and emissions reduction. Given the sharply increased focus in 2019 on aviation and its carbon footprint, it was perhaps not surprising that many airlines announced new sustainability initiatives in the final weeks of the year.

UK LCC easyJet said it would become the first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its entire network. The airline will achieve this goal by offsetting the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of its flights, an initiative it began in mid-November. The carrier will use offsetting schemes accredited by the Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard that include forestry, renewable and community-based projects. 

“We acknowledge that offsetting is only an interim measure until other technologies become available to radically reduce the carbon emissions of flying, but we want to take action on carbon now,” easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said. “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.”

EasyJet also announced it had signed a research agreement with Airbus to explore the opportunities and challenges in hybrid and electric aircraft development. Work under the MOU will define the impacts and the requirements necessary for the large-scale introduction of next-generation sustainable aircraft on infrastructure and on everyday commercial aircraft operations.   

The airline is also working on additional short- and medium-term actions, including the introduction of technologies such as e-taxiing and electric APUs, to further reduce emissions. 

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced plans to buy an undisclosed quantity of used cooking oil-based sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from Finnish company Neste, which will supply flights from Amsterdam Schiphol on a drop-in basis.

“This volume is additional to the existing supply from Los Angeles to bridge the period towards the opening of the SAF production plant that is to be built in Delfzijl, Netherlands in 2022. This plant, which is being developed by support of KLM and other industry suppliers, will supply 75,000 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel a year to KLM,” the airline said.

The Neste SAF will be used for flights out of KLM’s Amsterdam home base. It is a so-called drop-in fuel, meaning it can be used without any modifications to aircraft engines or fuel infrastructure at the airport when blended with fossil fuel.

“The sustainable fuel is produced from used cooking oil and will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil kerosene. This purchase is the next step in the use of sustainable fuel, as it is the first time the fuel will be supplied using the existing infrastructure at Schiphol,” KLM said.

KLM president and CEO Pieter Elbers said the purchase was largely made possible by companies taking part in KLM’s Corporate BioFuel Program. Under this scheme, companies pay a surcharge that covers the difference in price between SAFs and regular kerosene.

Neste is active in the US and Europe, with a current renewable jet fuel annual capacity of 100,000 tons. “With further production expansion on the way, Neste will have the capacity to produce over 1 million tonnes of renewable jet fuel globally by 2022,” KLM said.

Air France laid out plans to offset the emissions from its domestic network from Jan. 1, 2020, stepping up efforts to reduce its environmental impact. The airline wants to cut its CO2 emissions per passenger/kilometer by 50% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Its new pledge to offset emissions on its 450-flight per day domestic network is a move that Air France CEO Anne Rigail said would cost several million euros.

Rigail said the airline would offset its domestic network emissions through certified projects as well as by offering passengers the opportunity to finance the planting of trees as an offset for their flight.

Air France is also making efforts to reduce the weight of its fleet and is putting into place “eco-piloting,” including steps such as running only one or two engines on the runway. The company is also reducing and replacing onboard plastic and is looking to gradually introduce alternative fuels to its flights, starting with a plan to use biofuels for all flights departing San Francisco from 2020.

The airline also announced a partnership with the Solar Impulse Foundation—led by president Bertrand Piccard—to seek out solutions to help make aviation more environmentally friendly. The Solar Impulse Foundation has set a challenge of finding 1,000 efficient solutions across different sectors to combat climate change.

“The objective of this partnership will be to speed up the implementation of economically and ecologically viable solutions in the world of aviation,” Air France said. 

Qantas has set ambitious new emission reduction targets and several other measures as it looks to ramp up its sustainability efforts. The carrier has committed to capping its net carbon emissions at 2020 levels, saying it will be the first airline group to take such a step. It also intends to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, becoming the second airline to set this goal.

This means the airline will offset emissions from all growth by Qantas, Jetstar and QantasLink as of 2020. The carrier’s proposed ultra-long-haul flights to London or New York would be fully offset, and any growth on domestic routes will also be carbon neutral.

In another measure, Qantas will match all voluntary offsets purchased by passengers, effectively doubling the number of offsets. The carrier said about 10% of its customers elect to offset their flights. This will allow the carrier to expand its purchase of carbon credits to “support more conservation and environmental projects in Australia and around the world,” the airline said.

The carrier will also invest A$50 million ($34.3 million) over the next 10 years to help develop a sustainable aviation fuel industry. Qantas said it will work with governments and the private sector to make sustainable aviation fuel industry “more viable and increase demand.” 

ANA Holdings said that from Feb. 1, it will reduce its reliance on single-use plastics inside its cabins and lounges, and replace the plastic straws, stirring sticks and cutlery used in those areas. The plastic straws will be replaced with eco-friendly bioplastic or paper straws, while the new stirring sticks and cutlery will be made of wood. 

“ANA HD is committed to building on its strong record of environmental leadership by adopting policies that will prepare us to meet the next generation of challenges,” Group EVP Ito Yutaka said.  

SunExpress, a joint venture of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, launched a strategy to replace plastic products used on its international flights on June 5, 2019—World Environment Day—with recyclable materials. 

SunExpress will complete the process of replacing all plastic products used on its flights with products made from eco-friendly wood and paper in January 2020. With this initiative, the airline will be able to use sustainable eco-friendly alternative products instead of a total of 10 million single-use plastic products by the end of 2020. 

Tell ATW about your green initiatives

Is your airline, airport, company or organization involved in a sustainability initiative? Let us know the details and it will be included in this regular column highlighting projects that make aviation even greener.

Send details and images to ATW editor-in-chief Karen Walker at [email protected]