AskPablo: Helicopter Emissions

helicopter.jpgThis week I was asked by George about helicopter emissions. Recently Astrum Helicopters announced that they will be offering helicopter adventures and direct helicopter transfers to Chaa Creek, an award-winning eco-resort in Belize. To my reader it seemed contradictory to the mission of a Green Globe benchmarked resort to use helicopter transportation due to the potentially harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution. But how bad is it really? Read on to find out…

Chaa creek is about 1.5 hours away from the airport by road, or an estimated 130 km. By air the distance is less, about 94 km. Would the savings of 80 km per round trip be worth the increased fuel consumption of the helicopter? Well, let’s find out how much it is first. The helicopter in question is a Bell 206 L4, with a range of 615 km on 419 liters of aviation turbine fuel (Jet A). 419 l per 615 km comes out to 1.47 km/l, or 3.46 mpg. This aircraft will carry four people, with luggage, and we will assume the same for the airport van. The airport van probably gets around 15 mpg, or 6.4 km/l, so we can already see that the van would be over 4x more efficient over the same distance. Since the helicopter flies a direct line we will need to take that into account as well. Over the 94 km distance the helicopter will burn about 64 liters of fuel whereas the van will burn just over 20 liters. So, despite the distance saved the helicopter will use more than 3x more fuel than the van.
How does this compare to other transportation modes? Well, unlike shipping emissions, which are based on g/tkm (grams of GHGs per tons transported times distance transported), human cargo is measured in kg/100pkm (or kilograms of GHGs per 100 passenger kilometers. This takes into account the number of passengers, but not the crew, and helps us compare different aircraft and fleet emissions on a per-customer basis. Our helicopter transports 4 people over 615 km with 419 liters of Jet A fuel. The GHG emissions from Jet A are similar to gasoline, at around 3 kg per liter (See AskPablo: The Tailpipe Mystery), so 419 liters would result in 1,257 kg of GHGs. This needs to be adjusted form our passenger-kms of 2,460 (4 people x 615 km) to 100 pkm. So we divide 1,257 by 24.6 (2,460/100) to get 51.1 kg/100pkm. The van, for comparison is 11.7 kg/100pkm. In Lufthansa’s 2005 Corporate Responsibility Report they reported a fleet-wide emissions level of 11.1 kg CO2 per 100pkm. This can be adjusted for the Radiative Forcing Index for aviation emissions by multiplying by 2.7, to get 30 kg GHG per 100pkm.
If we assume at least one helicopter round-trip per day, every day, Chaa Creek and Astrum would contribute over 140 mT of GHGs per year, or 96 mT more than the van would. Of course the eco-savy travelers, or the resort could offset these emissions (about $1,050 at LiveNeutral) but how do you offset the noise pollution for birds, locals, and tourists?
Pablo Päster
Sustainability Engineer

6 responses

  1. So… 3x more fuel isn’t *that* horrible… but I reckon it’s a lot worse than that since a van could hold 10 people easily with luggage wheras the chopper seat, what, 4?

  2. I think those pilots are about 10 years behind in the conversation. Still, in the grand scheme of things, I have to agree that few chopper flights are not a big deal when compared to large scale industrial activity and supply chain inefficiencies which are the real big elephants in the room when it comes to climate change and all other negative externalities of human activity.
    But to answer the general premise of this article – yes, it’s hypocritical for an “eco resort” to use a helicopter, in my opinion!

  3. Not to mention flying to Belize to begin with. “Eco” travel is an oxymoron from that perspective. It is like the recycle of reduce – reuse -recycle. Use eco resorts if you cannot have local vacations or go by bike.

  4. Pingback: Carbon Footprints - Feet vs Helicopters at the Grand Canyon | Just Roughin' It

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