EXPRESS #3 - December 13, 2018
Carbon emissions ranking of top 200 airlines reveals the industry is still not heading for a safe landing
The Atmosfair Airline Index compares and ranks the carbon efficiency of the 200 largest airlines of the world. 6 European airlines come in the top ten. But Atmosfair, a German NGO, gives no airline a “class A” and adds that the Paris Agreement emissions targets will not be met unless there is radical change across the industry.
The formula they use accounts for every flight, the aircraft type, engines, winglets, seating and freight capacity as well as load factors for both passengers and co-loaded freight. They say the CO₂ emissions of an airline can be calculated at an error margin of less than two percent, by using detailed sources from authorities and official statistics, specialised data service providers and computer models used by aircraft engineers.
Their aim is to make climate efficiency a factor of competition among the airlines. Car drivers have long been able to inform themselves about the CO₂ emissions of a car before purchasing it. However, air passengers are left in the dark when it comes to choosing the most climate-friendly airline.
For corporate clients, Atmosfair offers specific analyses of individual routes. It allows for climate-conscious enterprises to identify the CO₂ efficiency of different airlines on the routes that their employees fly regularly.
The Airline Index awards every airline an efficiency score between 0 and 100, differentiated by flight length (short, medium and long).
The most efficient new aircraft models, such as the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A350-900 and A320neo, can achieve substantial carbon savings over older models, but no airlines have invested sufficiently in the new types to reach the top levels of energy efficiency, says Atmosfair.
The Top 10
TUI Airways, the British holiday airline, came top of the rankings for the second year running, reaching just under 80% of the possible optimum level of carbon emissions. TUI Fly, the company’s German counterpart, came in fourth.
[EP=Efficiency points; EK=Efficiency class; Pax=Number of passengers]
Airline carbon emissions are still on the rise
Atmosfair also found that only one in 10 airlines worldwide were succeeding in keeping their greenhouse gas emissions constant while achieving economic growth. Among these were Thai Airways, Finnair, American Airlines and All Nippon Airlines.
Carbon emissions from airlines grew by about 5% last year, while the number of kilometres flown increased by 6%, according to Atmosfair, showing that much more needs to be done to ensure aviation does not take up an unsustainable amount of the world’s remaining “carbon budget”.
Dietrich Brockhagen, executive director of Atmosfair, said: “Our results show that the efficiency improvements of the vast majority of airlines worldwide is not sufficient [to keep within the] 2C or 1.5C target [of the Paris agreement]. We need new, synthetic and CO2-neutral fuels and other more radical measures to curb CO2 emissions in the sector.”
It’s not just the fuel, it’s the design efficiency and passenger occupancy
Fuel is one problem. Design efficiency and passenger occupancy is the other, and this is something the airlines can change without waiting for someone to invent a low-carbon aircraft fuel. The report helpfully includes a graphic that tells airlines what to focus on. In their words: “In order to increase CO2 efficiency, airlines can optimize various factors. The graphic shows which factors have the greatest effect on reducing CO2 emissions changing the factor by one standard deviation.”
So progress can be made. Virgin Airlines said: “We have undertaken a massive renewal programme to replace our entire fleet over a 10 year period, switching from four-engine aircraft to much more efficient two-engine aircraft. As a result we have reduced our aircraft carbon emissions by 23.7% since 2007. Our carbon emissions will continue to reduce as we take delivery of more new aircraft over the next three years.” But, according to Atmosfair, Virgin has a long way to go. The report placed Virgin Atlantic Airways in 83rd place.
The difference between short, medium and long haul
Atmosfair includes a graphic in their report that stacks up the CO2 emissions alongside an individual’s “personal climate budget”, defined as: “the amount of CO2 that one human being can generate annually if global warming is to stay below the 2°C mark, provided the resulting world CO2 budget were equally distributed among all humans.” There are huge differences between short, medium and long haul flights.
So while you wait for the airlines industry to increase efficiency and come up with renewable aircraft fuel, you should be careful where you fly, and how often. Or spend more time with your fridge.