The aviation industry produced almost 700 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2012, representing two percent of all carbon emissions, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN group. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) projects that greenhouse gas emissions from aviation will increase by four percent annually through 2050, and by then could be responsible for 15 percent of carbon emissions.
Aviation is presently responsible for about 10 percent of global transportation related oil use, and that is expected to at least double by 2030. Perhaps Alaska Airlines (AA) can lead the way to improving fuel efficiency, which would lower the industry’s carbon emissions.
A report by the ICCT ranked AA number one in fuel efficiency. The study is the first to quantify the fuel performance of the 15 top U.S. airlines. Making the number one spot in ICCT’s rankings makes AA the most fuel-efficient U.S. airline. AA topped the least fuel-efficient airline, Allegiant, by 26 percent. As a result of improving its fuel efficiency, AA reduced its carbon emissions by 30 percent.
One of the main ways the airline improved fuel efficiency was through switching to more fuel-efficient aircraft, including the Boeing 737 and Bombardier Q400. Both aircrafts are described as the most fuel-efficient aircraft in their classes. Another way that AA improved fuel efficiency is by implementing better arrival routes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The airline accomplished this by using satellite-based navigation as opposed to ground-based radar. Last spring, the shorter routes became operational and saved fuel and reduced carbon emissions.
“We have made significant investments in our fleet, technology and processes to improve our fuel performance. These sustainability efforts also help us keep our costs down in order to provide better value for our customers,” said Keith Loveless, Alaska Air Group’s executive vice president and general counsel.
AA is helping develop an aviation biofuels industry
AA helped launch the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest in 2010, along with 35 other stakeholders, including Boeing and Washington State University. The SAFN is the first regional stakeholder effort in the U.S. to look into creating an aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest. The SAFN is not the only biofuels group the airline partners with, as AA became the first domestic member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), an organization which focuses on accelerating the development and commercialization of aviation biofuels.
AA and Horizon Air, one of its regional partners, launched their first commercial flights in the U.S. powered by biofuel in 2011. The airline flew a total of 75 passenger flights powered by a 20 percent biofuel blend. The project grew out of the airline’s involvement in SAFN. Two years later, AA became the first airline to sign an agreement with Hawaii BioEnergy LLC to buy biofuel for its Hawaii flights. AA may start buying biofuel from the company as soon as fall 2018. The feedstock for the biofuel is likely to be “woody biomass-based,” according to Hawaii BioEnergy.
Photo: Dirk-Jan Kraan