The world of sustainable aviation is a very busy place at the moment. Take United Airlines as an example, their recent spending spree paints a somewhat confusing picture but overall what they are doing is pushing things in the right direction.
Let’s ignore their love affair with super sonic for a moment, only weeks later did they place a giant order for new aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing, good planes that will have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions when they start flying.
These are tried and tested planes too, not paper planes like Booms’ Overture. They ordered the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A321 NEO respectively. A few weeks after that United committed to buy a range of electric aircrafts to serve their domestic network. These planes haven’t flown yet and have a pretty limited range; flying 250 miles and carrying 19 passengers, but they are essentially carbon neutral.
What’s interesting here is that United is investing directly in the company, Heart Aerospace, that makes these planes through its venture capital arm.
But let’s make one thing very clear, aviation isn’t sustainable and we are quite a long way from achieving net zero or carbon neutral flying, but the tide is turning and the increased interest mixed with the might of governments is pushing developments in the right direction.
The UK Government's Department for Transport recently published a consultation report called ‘Jet Zero Consultation: A consultation on our strategy for net zero aviation’ (PDF) The report is full of interesting proposals and is actively encouraging companies, airlines etc. to get in touch with opinions and ideas on the subject It includes sections on System Efficiencies, Sustainable Aviation Fuels and one that we found particularly interesting called Influencing Consumers.
Below I am highlighting section 3.46:
And there are ways in which we can provide consumers with greater opportunities to make sustainable, informed choices on their travel plans, and in turn incentivise industry to decarbonise. For example, by providing better information on the climate impacts of travelling on different routes, or on different airlines. A study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) suggests that emissions per passenger can differ by up to 63% on the same transatlantic route.
That’s it. That’s us. That’s Lite.Flights, that is exactly what we do and we do it right now. We are the only one doing it at scale, globally across the majority of airlines.
Mandatory carbon labelling
The UK CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) plans to investigate if it should make it mandatory to display carbon emissions as part of the ticketing process. It’s interesting in itself that this hasn’t happened yet. Look at cars; you can’t buy one without knowing the exact details of its range and emission. Here is the full proposal in the report's own words:
We will work with the CAA to explore whether mandating the provision of environmental information to customers at the time of booking flights could influence consumer decision-making when presented with standard, reliable and accurate flight comparisons.
If this is going to work, airlines and other booking engines have to differentiate between aircraft types, otherwise the carbon emission remains just an average. As we have pointed out before, an average is not particularly helpful or interesting to a consumer - nor does it help us in our quest to achieve carbon neutral. I would expect airlines to be doing all they can to resist the need to share their exact carbon footprint per aircraft type; they ultimately want to sell tickets across their entire fleet, not on one aircraft type over another.
An airline is not going to retire an aircraft quicker because it’s more polluting, that simply isn’t going to happen, aircrafts are too expensive.
There are only two reasons for an aircraft to be retired.
It’s old and has outflown its life. This usually happens after some 20 odd years and 20.000 cycles (a cycle is one take-off and one landing).
The other reason is fuel efficiency, if it gets too expensive to operate. British Airways’ retirement of all their 747-400 is a case in point. The aircraft retirement had everything to do with economics and nothing to do with its emissions - any savings on emissions is a side effect.
Changing customer behaviour
The aim of Lite.Flight is ultimately to make customers care and provide them with informed options. For the last 40 years price has been the predominant driver for ticket sales. However, we don’t want people to be put off by higher prices for less polluting flights. It really should be the other way around or at least we should work at coming up with an incentive for picking the option that produces the least amount of CO₂.
Hopefully we can play a part in helping educate the carbon conscious flyer.