Sustainability in the airline industry

It’s encouraging to note and see that many airlines are trying to reduce their carbon footprint in both the conventional manner (greening their fuel) as well as less traditional methods. Returning back from a coast to coast trip, I was able to observe the sustainability efforts by two well recognized brands- JetBlue and Southwest Airlines; both US born smaller airline companies, companies that can make introduce and implement sustainability efforts faster than giant behemoths of the airline world. Flying on those airlines for a good part of two days, made me want to share my thoughts on this topic as well research this topic further. Here’s what I found

Some common efforts followed by all industries include[1]:

•   Modernizing their fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft

•   Employing new technologies and fuel efficiency standards to reduce emissions

•   Installing winglets (upward-facing wing extensions) to reduce drag and fuel use

•   Introducing water-saving (not really sure how)

•   Introducing recycling programs for both in the air and on the ground operations.

•   Removing excess weight by using low weight paint, carbon fiber instead of metal etc.

•   Using Required Navigation Performance (RNP) in order to reduce emissions

•   Reducing airplane idling times

•   Offering carbon offset programs

•   Researching alternative energy sources for jets

Some specific initiatives from individual airlines include[1]:

American Airline has taken it a few notches up by both creating a task force to come up with Fuel Smart Initiative, which focuses on fuel conservation. Because of the Fuel Smart research, they now use more electricity when parked to reduce jet fuel use and fly the most efficient routes at computer-determined optimal flying speeds for fuel efficiency.

On the ground, Lufthansa is working with linking flights to mass transit (including the ability to check-in for a connecting flight from the Cologne and Stutgaart airports). The airline is committed to green building—the Lufthansa Aviation Centre uses about one-third of the energy that a typical office building consumes.

Nature Air, a Costa Rican airways works to reduce carbon emissions by providing bus service for employees, using one-engine taxiing, and energy-saving light bulbs. Nature air is also researching the use of ethanol and/or pig waste to power their planes.

 Virgin Atlantic Airways flew the world’s first commercial aircraft with biofuel. It uses a “starting grid” method for take-off, which allows pilots to wait until just 10 minutes before take-off to start their engines. Airplanes are towed (instead of taxied) from the gates to the starting grid where they wait to leave. The tow system also allows planes to shut off their power within 5 minutes of landing. It is working to reduce the weight of planes by using lighter-weight paint and replacing metal with carbon fiber where possible. The airline employs a Fuel Panel to focus on fuel efficiency and is a leader in researching biofuels for jet engines.

My personal take on what airlines can do in addition:

Researching this article made me feel good about all the big ticket items airlines are doing to become more efficient and sustainable. However, sustainability is also a frame of mind and a culture. That culture is what I mostly see missing from the various airlines I travel on. It almost feels as if being green is troublesome and they don’t want to trouble their customers. But I personally believe customers will feel proud and happy to participate in the airline’s culture if given a chance. For example, although many airlines say they have a robust inflight recycling program, when it actually comes to collecting trash, there never seems to be a conscious effort to educate customers on how to better recycle. They end up just passing all the trash to the host or hostess and they either put it in one bag or make a feeble attempt to sort out the cans from the rest of the trash.

Then there is food served on the planes? Are they doing a good job of separating the extra food and disposing it in a sustainable manner? Are they ensuring that there is less and less of extra food in the first place? What else can we improve on? How about serving water in plastic bottles? coffee in styrofoam cups? do blankets need to be offered wrapped in plastic? I don’t know the alternatives yet but I am sure if we put our brains together we could come up with some. Maybe customers are encouraged to get empty water bottles and these can be refilled in the plane. That’s usually what I do.

I encourage you to join me in the conversation and put on your thinking cap..Maybe you have seen some good ideas and some bad ideas that you came across during your travels. It would be great to hear those too. So please, hit the comment button and let the ideas take off!

a380-leaf

[1] http://www.responsibletravelreport.com/component/content/article/2648-how-some-airlines-are-striving-toward-sustainability

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One Response to Sustainability in the airline industry

  1. tamannam says:

    a friend who reviewed this piece sent me a related NYT article on airline emissions.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/business/energy-environment/epa-says-it-will-set-rules-for-airplane-emissions.html

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