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Aviation: Airline CO2 emissions rated

German NGO and carbon offsetting specialist atmosfair has published a report analysing the emissions of 200 of the world’s largest airlines. It examines operations conducted over the last year, taking into account variables such as the length of each flight, the fuel burned, the age and efficiency of the aircraft operated including options such as their engines, the density of the seating in the cabins, and the percentage of seats occupied. atmosfair then calculates each carrier’s carbon efficiency in terms of the amount of CO2 produced per seat, per kilometre flown. It can also conduct competitive analyses on a route-by-route basis.

Aircraft CO2 emissions are measured by atmosfair (photo: Walter Baxter)

Charter airlines on top

British holiday airline TUI Airways came out at the head of the table in 2018 for a second year running. Several other European operators were in the top ten including TUIfly, France, SunExpress, Thomas Cook Airlines and Condor. However, no airline has achieved the best Efficiency Rating - class A. A few made class B while most are in bands C, D, E and F. The worst offenders are placed in Class G. Of the top 50 most CO2 efficient airlines in the world, 14 are in Europe while 10 are in China. atmosfair also notes though that only 10% of airlines have managed to achieve carbon-neutral growth during the last year – overall capacity in the industry increased at 6% per annum while production of greenhouse gasses is rose by 5% pa.

atmosfair produces an analysis of each airline’s performance divided into short-haul, medium-haul and long-haul categories. It claims this enables wouldbe travellers to compare the emissions produced by [for example] British Airways and Lufthansa on a flight to Frankfurt, or Virgin Atlantic versus American Airlines on a trip to the United States. Indeed both British Airways (74th overall) and Lufthansa (66th) are in Efficiency Class D, although the German airline has an edge in overall performance. Similarly American Airlines (58th, in Class D overall but worse - Class E – for long-haul) outpaces Virgin Atlantic (83rd and also in Class D) when all of its flying is considered, but the British carrier has a better CO2 rating when considering just long-range trips.

The report also separates out the low-cost carriers because, atmosfair says, many of them are subsidised and offer unrealistic airfares that generate unnecessary journeys. Its calculations also exclude the carbon impact of surface transport at departure and destination points, and it suggests these are likely to be higher for travellers in the budget sector because they use more remote airports. Nevertheless it places operators such as Ryanair, Lion Air and Norwegian in Efficiency Class B while easyJet, Eurowings and Frontier Airlines are in band C.

atmosfair ranks airlines according to their CO2 emissions (atmosfair)

The report concludes that: “new aircraft types such as Boeing 787-9, Airbus A350-900 or the A320neo can achieve fuel consumptions of less than 3.5 litres of kerosene per passenger and 100 kilometres, even on fuel-intensive long haul routes. These new aircraft models considerably raise the bar in terms of carbon efficiency. Airlines that have not updated their fleets or have only made slight improvements have lost ground in the current AAI [atmosfair Airline Index] ranking.”

Does it mean that much?

It's concerning that no airline has yet achieved the best efficiency rating - that's mainly because no operator has a fleet that is all new aircraft types yet. It's also a bit bothersome that the industry's overall emissions are still increasing year on year. Equally its very noticeable that the best performers tend to be the airlines that typically have more occupied seats on each flight; on that basis alone it is understandable why many holiday airlines do well.

It’s obvious that a great deal of analysis has gone into the figures produced by atmosfair. Its output is based on examining 93% of flights operating across the globe. Its workings have been supported by data produced global organisations including ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) and IATA (International Air Transport Association). It’s very helpful that when there is competition on a route the environmentally conscious travellers among us can base their choice of airline on CO2 output, if they wish.

However, The Aviation Oracle wonders how much influence the numbers will have on consumer behaviour. Are reports like this meaningless to the average traveller, or will they take notice? Should the aviation industry consider CO2 more seriously as part of its expansion plans? Whatever the airlines do it seems likely that leisure travellers will predominantly make their choice based on price, schedule and airport convenience. Meanwhile many business travellers will continue to be swayed by corporate policies and frequent flyer program allegiance. Clearly though the findings favour airlines that cram seats into aircraft - that's quite logical when it comes to measuring the CO2 produced per passenger, but it's an ominous indicator of where comfort might be headed in the future.

The 2018 report can be downloaded from: atmosfair Airline Index 2018

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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