We're all trying to do our little bit to help the environment, but surprisingly little public information is available about the fuel efficiency, and therefore carbon intensity, of international flights.
To rectify this, the International Council on Clean Transportation has published a report that summarises the first public, transparent assessment of the fuel efficiency of the top 20 airlines operating non-stop transatlantic passenger flights linking Europe to the U.S. and Canada. The study combined the highest quality publicly available and commercial operations data with sophisticated aircraft fuel burn modelling to benchmark the fuel efficiency of carriers on a passenger kilometre basis.
And here are the results for the top 20 airlines:
Fuel efficiency of the top 20 airlines on transatlantic routes, 2014
Extra fuel used on transatlantic routes, 2014
The report investigated key drivers of the observed fuel efficiency gap across carriers. Factors
investigated include the average fuel burn of the aircraft operated along with operational parameters like aircraft seating configuration, passenger load factor, and belly freight carriage.
Seating configuration and the average fuel burn of aircraft operated were found to be the two most important drivers overall, collectively explaining about 80% of the variation in airline fuel efficiency.
Passenger load factor and freight carriage were found to be relatively less important.
The impact of premium seating on emissions is substantial: first class and business seats counted for only 14% of available seat kilometres (ASKs) flown on transatlantic routes but were responsible for approximately one third of overall emissions.
Other conclusions of the study are as follows:
1. The significant gap (up to 51%) between industry leaders such as Norwegian Air Shuttle and
legacy carriers such as Lufthansa, SAS, and British Airways reveals a large disparity in airline
fuel efficiency on transatlantic operations. Surprisingly, the transatlantic efficiency gap is
roughly double that seen for the U.S. domestic market, which was only 25% in 2014.
2. The very high fuel efficiency of Norwegian Air Shuttle demonstrates the central role of technology in reducing CO 2 emissions from the aviation sector. Airlines that invest in new, advanced aircraft are more fuel-efficient than airlines that use older, less efficient aircraft. This finding draws attention to the importance of reducing aircraft fuel burn, in particular the role of new, more advanced aircraft types in improving overall airline efficiency.
3. The 50%+ gap in fuel efficiency suggests there is a large and underestimated potential for
in-sector CO 2 emission reductions. This highlights the role for additional policies to limit aviation emissions, notably the CO 2 standard being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO ) and a global market-based measure (MBM) to price aviation carbon.
4. Finally, accurate and transparent data are the cornerstone for assessing the fuel efficiency
of airlines. Improved data reporting would help travellers concerned about their carbon
footprint make more informed purchasing decisions and help policy-makers craft policies to
reduce the environmental impact of flying.
If you have an environmental policy and/or ISO14001 accreditation, you may wish to consider the above information when your travel policy is next up for review.