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How airlines reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to ensure the future of sustainable air travel?

How airlines reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to ensure the future of sustainable air travel? - By Ahmed Haouaria

15 Mars 2020

To start post let’s first have a look at ICAO recommendation in terms of Environmental Protection as highlighted by ICAO. 

Improving the environmental performance of aviation is a challenge ICAO takes very seriously. In 2004, the 35th Session of the ICAO Assembly adopted three major environmental goals, which have been reaffirmed in all subsequent Assembly Sessions:

to limit or reduce the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise

to limit or reduce the impact of aviation emission on local air quality

to limit or reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emission on the global climate.

ICAO policies and practices related to environmental protection are revised and updated every three years by the ICAO Assembly. Currently, these policies and practices are included in Assembly Resolutions A40-17, A40-18 and A40-19, adopted in October 2019.

The ICAO Council also adopted a Strategic Objective on Environmental Protection, which is to minimize the adverse environmental effects of civil aviation activities.

The plane remains the most polluting means of transport, it produces three times more greenhouse gases than a car. Airplanes are responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions worldwide, and 5% of global warming. Aware of this disastrous effect, airlines around the world are now trying to "go green" by betting on so-called "new generation" planes. As for aircraft manufacturers, reducing the consumption of kerosene has today become a real challenge in a very competitive market between Boeing and Airbus.

Tackling the flygskamby by promoting the eco-piloting concept

With more than 8 billion passengers intended to be carried by plane by 2037, air transport still seems to have a bright future ahead of it. But when the phenomenon of "shame on flying" flygskam in Swedish appeared, the airlines emphasize their actions in favor of the environment to continue to attract potential customers and ensure the future of the sector. Among the good practices used, companies use carbon offsetting, renewal of aircraft fleets, and also promoting eco-piloting policies.

What is the eco-piloting policy?

Eco-piloting is not a new concept born with the "flygskam". Since the beginning of the 2010s, when the price of kerosene was at its highest, good environment practices have developed everywhere in order to reduce the impact of this important airline spending item which is around one-third of the airline costs. The objective is to reduce the weight of the aircraft - which, when applied to aircraft piloting, means, in particular, to avoid taking excess kerosene and water -, continuous descent approaches rather than in stages, which allow reduce engine power, or use a single-engine while taxiing. On a flight, the savings made in terms of consumption can seem derisory. But in reality, every consumed kilo of fuel counts. Aircraft ground operations optimization significantly reduces subsequent local air quality impacts. Single engine taxiing (SET), where only half of the installed number of engines are used for the majority of the taxi duration, offers the opportunity to reduce not only fuel consumption but also CO2 emission. 

To monitor its eco-piloting performance and optimize it, airlines rely on digital technology by partnering with specialized companies like OpenAirlines which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize the climb profile and considerably reduce fuel consumption.

Other measures such as the elimination of single-use plastics on board are in the process of being adopted.

Onboard aircraft, there is still a lot of single-use plastic. Just look at your meal tray to see that there are including cutlery, containers, and packaging of these trays.

From 2021, this plastic should disappear to make way for new alternatives. The European Union has adopted a new directive banning all single-use plastics. Airlines therefore still have three years to comply.

Optimize the route and reduce the weight of the aircraft

Good eco-piloting practices start a few hours before the flight. "At the stage of flight preparation carried out by a dedicated specialist, the ‘’flight dispatcher "in the jargon of air transport, using specific software. This work allows the crew to choose an optimized route, always giving absolute priority to safety when, with the help of specific software, the pilots choose how to optimize their route. 

Each flight is indeed unique and differs according to the meteorological forecast: winds, thunderstorms, turbulence, in the upper atmosphere, etc. 

  • An appropriate amount of fuel calculation

Pilots calculate the amount of fuel required and only take on board what they need to ensure the flight with the highest safety level. Objective: not to transport fuel unnecessarily because it weighs down the plane and increases its consumption, and therefore its CO2 emissions. In other words, to reduce the carbon footprint, it's about flying as light as possible. Each kilogram removed from each aircraft represents the equivalent of 70 tones less CO2 emissions per year.

  • Water utilization

In the same way, as for kerosene, the crew can adjust the carrying of water according to the flight time and the number of passengers on board. This measure removes around 4,500 tones of CO2 per year.

  • Aircraft weight and balance

Another possible eco-piloting action: optimizing the aircraft weight and balance, that is to say, better distributing the masses in the aircraft. The more the weight of the aircraft is distributed to the rear of the centering envelope authorized by the manufacturer, the less fuel consumption. Over a year, optimized centering reduces 3000 tones of additional CO2 emissions.

Optimization starts on the ground

Eco-piloting also begins on the ground, even before the engines are started, while the aircraft is still at its parking point. Rather than using his auxiliary power unit (APU), which consumes fuel to produce the energy used to power the various systems of the aircraft, such as air conditioning, the pilot can use the electricity available from the bridge. A solution applicable to all aircraft and also valid on arrival, once connected to the bridge to disembark passengers.After boarding and after leaving the parking, pilots use the most efficient practice by choosing the nearest   airfield to avoid too long taxiing time. At this phase, a new eco-pilot player comes into the scene, Air Traffic Control ATC. ATC determines the route of the aircraft to the runway.

What about the cruising altitude?

After takeoff, it is essential to quickly reach the best cruising altitude which will evolve throughout the flight depending on the weight of the aircraft which will lighten up by consuming its fuel. Indeed, planes and their engines are optimized to fly between 10,000 & 12,000 meters.

Depending on the wind regime (favorable or head-winds, forecast or encountered during the flight, as well as the weight of the aircraft, the crew will choose an optimized altitude updated throughout the flight which will guarantee the highest level of safety and comfort but also to reduce fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions.

Civil aviation targets long-term CO2 reduction target by 2050

The 193 member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), meeting on September 24, 2019, in Montreal, have committed to step up their efforts to limit carbon emissions in the long term.

They reaffirmed their support for the global mechanism for offsetting CO2 emissions, called Corsia, which provides that airlines will have to stabilize their emissions starting from 2020.

From 2021, CO2 emissions exceeding the level reached in 2020 will be offset by the acquisition of "reduction credits" on a market supplied by sectors of activity that reduce their emissions.

In parallel with Corsia, in 2009 the airlines and manufacturers set the goal of halving their emissions by 2050 compared to the level of 2005.

For China and Russia, the Corsia system penalizes aviation from developing countries. With the support of India, they demanded a ballot to validate the motion. For the moment, no firm commitment has been made.

Boeing: a giant step towards manufacturing lighter airplanes and therefore saving fuel


Wood and canvas in the past, then metal, aluminum, steel, etc. Today, carbon fiber. Tomorrow, the micro-lattice. Boeing has taken a giant step towards the development of lighter and more environmentally friendly aircraft thanks to this material composed of 99.9% of air. Ultralight, a block of micro-lattice can be placed on a delicate dandelion flower without crushing it while displaying exceptional properties of resistance and shock absorption. Scientists were inspired by human bones to develop the micro-lattice. Seen from the outside, the bones are stiff, "but if you look inside, you will see small hollow alveoli. This is what makes a human bone very strong but also very light’’, explains the scientists.

Airbus and Boeing have an obsession: to lighten their planes in order to reduce fuel consumption and polluting emissions. Spectacular gains have already been obtained with composites used for the first time massively, onboard the 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A 350.

In Sweden, it is becoming a real social phenomenon. Many Swedes refuse to fly

Due to their remote location in the North of Europe, The Swedes are frequent travelers by plane. They fly five times more than the world average. Their C02 emissions are as important as the car. So, they decided to act.

A concert hall in Helsingborg, for example, decided to no longer accommodate artists arriving by plane.

Taking the train is 40 times less polluting than taking the plane. The government is, therefore, re-establishing night trains. The French newspaper Le Figaro reports the story of an Italian living in Stockholm who takes 37 hours to return home to Turin but is proud to take the train.

Moreover, Internet users track holiday photos of the stars who show photos on the other side of the world, in Bali or Cambodia. Internet users add the carbon footprint of the holidays to the photo. The big flygskam!

When Greta Thunberg the Swedish teenager activist expressed her refusal to fly, owing to the environmental impact it imposes, she produced widespread “flight shaming,” making travelers think twice about their means of transportation and prompting them to take a more thoughtful travel approach.







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