Aviation & Environment

In this post I’m going to list carbon offset airlines i.e. those that have carbon offsetting schemes as well as other ways of compensating for the environmental impact of your travel choices. Most people are familiar carbon offsetting but for those of you who aren’t here is a brief explanation.

Carbon offsetting is the process of making financial payments to projects and schemes that compensate for the carbon footprint that results from your habits and lifestyle, in this case air travel. It needn’t be just for air travel of course, you could also participate in carbon offsetting if you travel by sea, by road, or not at all.

If you live off-grid in a tipi then your carbon footprint is going to be very low. On the other hand, if your drive a diesel car and jet around the world on business several times a year then your footprint is going to be considerably larger. Whatever the size of your personal or your company’s carbon footprint you can offset your impact by sending voluntary donations to, for example, projects that siphon off methane gas at a landfill site, or a project that helps distribute environmentally friendly cooking stoves, or any other project that helps to lessen the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

IATA, the International Air Transport Association, describes it thus, “Carbon offsetting is simply a way for individuals or organizations, in this case airline passengers and corporate customers, to “neutralize” their proportion of an aircraft’s carbon emissions on a particular journey by investing in carbon reduction projects.”

carbon offset airlines

The IATA website then goes on to say that “over 30 IATA member airlines have introduced an offset program either integrated into their web-sales engines or to a third party offset provider.”

It may be a voluntary contribution at the end of the checkout process or the offset payment may be built into the price. Either way the money you pay goes to support low carbon, energy efficiency, educational, or renewable energy projects all over the world. If your airline doesn’t have such a scheme you can still participate in carbon offsetting by making a payment using an offsetting website.

Critics of carbon offsetting have suggested that it simply encourages people to continue to waste resources and even worsens the effect by making people even more complacent, but others point out that it increases awareness and leads to a change in habits and lifestyle that reduces a person’s overall carbon footprint. In the meantime, if you want or need to travel by air then you have this choice.

Carbon Offset Airlines

So here’s a list of airlines that have some kind of carbon offsetting scheme.

  • Air Canada has set up partnership with Less Emissions (www.less.ca) to provide offsets.
  • Air France have a carbon offset program that supports solar stoves in Bolivia and other projects.
  • Air New Zealand provides its offsetting through a partnership with ClimateCare to fund both domestic and international projects. Alaska Airlines have a scheme in partnership with Carbonfund.org which allows you to offset some or the entire carbon footprint of your flight.
  • Austrian Airlines’ partners are Climate Austria (www.climateaustria.at).
  • British Airways give their customers the option to choose whether to donate in support of projects in the UK and Africa.
  • Brussels Airlines have partnered with CO2logic to fund water treatment in Kenya and energy efficient cooking stoves in Uganda.
  • Cathay Pacific has a program called Fly Greener which supports several projects.
  • China Airlines have also partnered with ClimateCare to help environmentally friendly projects.
  • Delta Airlines give passengers the choice to support one of three of The Nature Conservancy’s carbon offsetting projects.
  • EVA Air is another of ClimateCare’s airline partners.
  • Finnair have a scheme that supports energy efficient cooking stoves in Mozambique.
  • Harbour Air Seaplanes are a fully carbon neutral airline and they’ve celebrated 10 years of offsetting in partnership with the Offsetters organisation (www.offsetters.ca).
  • Japan Airlines give their support direct to two projects without an intermediary.
  • JetBlue have also partnered with Carbonfund.org.
  • JetStar Airways have a scheme called Fly Carbon Neutral Program and it’s available to all passengers travelling on Jetstar Airways (JQ) and Jetstar Pacific (BL) flights.
  • Kenya Airways have a Quality Assured Standard (QAS) approved program supporting a project called the Kasigau Corridor.
  • KLM offer a carbon compensation service called CO2Zero which is voluntary and can be included in your online booking.
  • Lufthansa have partnered with MyClimate (more details below) to support two projects, one of which provides solar powered lighting in Ethiopia.
  • Mango Air of South Africa also has a Quality Assured Standard (QAS) approved program supporting a project in Ghana.
  • Nature Air of Costa Rica is the world’s first carbon neutral airline having achieved the status in 2004.
  • Qantas have been providing carbon offsetting for over ten years and their arrangement is called Qantas Future Planet.
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) compensate for the carbon footprint of their flights with the help of Natural Capital Partners.
  • SriLankan Airlines’ FlyGreen program provides support for small hydropower plants in Sri Lanka.
  • South African Airways are another supporter of the Gyapa project in Ghana through their optional donations.
  • Swiss Air support biomass and cooking stove projects through their optional donation scheme.
  • TAP Air Portugal support a project called Ecomapua in Brazil through their voluntary payment service.
  • Thai Airways also invite you to make a donation at the checkout, and their program is audited by the Carbon Offset Approval Scheme of United Kingdom.
  • Tigerair give you the option to make a donation to the Fly Carbon Neutral scheme.
  • United Airlines have a program called Eco-Skies CarbonChoice, which they say, “…provides customers with the opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint associated with their air travel through the purchase of carbon offsets”.
  • Virgin Atlantic announced a new carbon offsetting partnership with ClimateCare in March 2019.
  • Virgin Australia have also celebrated over ten years of carbon offsetting and the payment can be built into the ticket price if you so choose.
  • Westjet support a biomass energy project called Toronto Organics through a third party partnership.

If your airline doesn’t have a publicised carbon offsetting arrangement it could still be making a contribution through other means. If you would prefer to calculate your carbon footprint independently of any airline ticketing price, then there are ways to do so.

Carbon Offset Calculations

MyClimate.org has an easy to use calculator that tells you how much carbon dioxide your journey will generate whether you travel by aircraft, ship, or motor car. The website says that the maximum amount of CO2 a person should produce per year in order to halt climate change is 0.6 tonnes, but the amount of CO2 a citizen of the EU produces each year on average is 8.4 tonnes.

Therefore, an economy class flight for two people from London, Gatwick to Rome will generate 1.2 tonnes of CO2, so they suggest an offset of £25 for projects. A business class flight for two people from London, Heathrow to New York will generate 8.0 tonnes of CO2, so the suggestion is a minimum of £171 for projects. The project might be to help smallhold farmers in Nicaragua with reforestation or an education project teaching young people about climate change.

Similar sites and schemes include the aforementioned Carbonfund.org.

You see, there are ways in which you can make a positive contribution to combating climate change while still enjoying air travel. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight while work continues into developing cleaner biofuels and better batteries. We may not yet be flying around in electrically powered aircraft using electricity generated from sustainable sources, but they are coming.

In the meantime you can still use air travel and help with all kinds of environmental projects, and if you’re still not convinced then fly less often but don’t forget that your trips by road or sea will also have a carbon cost.

Airline's popular flights: British Airways

PlaceDirectionFind tickets
1London → MoscowFind tickets
2Moscow → LondonFind tickets
3Larnaca → LondonFind tickets
4London → LarnacaFind tickets
5Athens → LondonFind tickets
6London → AthensFind tickets
7New York → LondonFind tickets
8London → New YorkFind tickets
9Barcelona → LondonFind tickets
10London → ParisFind tickets

In this post I’m going to explain why I think flight shaming is a sham and why it won’t save the planet if you fly less often. I’m going to suggest that reducing the number of flights you make, whether for business or leisure, isn’t going to make any significant difference to the changing climate.

It may make you feel smug and self-righteous but that’s about it. You can virtue-signal all you like while basking in the warm glow of approval as you collect endorsements on social media but you’ll be doing little to save the planet.

You may allow yourself to be persuaded by a patronising celebrity to take a staycation instead of flying to Bali for two weeks but don’t imagine they’ll be curtailing their flying any time soon. Many of the Prophets of Doom are jetting around the world from one conference or summit to another, and then telling you that a flight to Ibiza is an environmental sin that cannot be offset by a payment to a carbon neutral scheme.

Triggered yet? Before you launch into your comment, hear me out. Read this post to to the end as you may find that we do in fact agree on several important points.

Let me begin by saying; I’m not a climate scientist and the chances are you’re not either. If I’ve guessed wrong then feel free to add a comment below with a link to your credentials so that everyone can see the verification. Also, I’m biased in favour of aviation, as you can probably guess from the other posts I’ve added here.

When it comes to the climate, we rely on scientists to give us the facts but of course they’re only the facts as they know them so far. Scientists don’t know what makes up 96% of the energy in the Universe and they can’t explain how Quantum Entanglement works, and when it comes to climate science there are those who dispute the assumptions and predictions.

Flight Shaming Is A Sham
Go flying, see the world

Consequently, they’re regarded as heretics by the majority, many of whom refuse to even enter into further discussion.

I’m not denying that the climate is changing but I do take a large pinch of salt when I’m told how much impact human activity is accelerating that change. My instinct is that we’re not being told the whole truth and that those with vested interests may be placing undue influence on the debate to support their true agenda.

I also take issue with the fact that aviation comes in for so much criticism in comparison to things like commercial shipping and leisure cruising. For example, what is the carbon footprint for the construction of one of those big 21st Century cruise liners? And what is the carbon footprint per passenger for a two week cruise? You may say two wrongs don’t make a right but I haven’t seen anyone campaigning for cruise shaming, or protestors gluing themselves to the anchor chains of liners berthed in Southampton Docks.

Flight Shaming Is A Sham

The idea of flight shaming originated in Sweden, where it is known as flygskam, and where people tend to take longer holidays (and therefore fewer of them). It has been dubbed the ‘Greta Effect’ as people react to Greta Thurnberg’s pleas and warnings. Sweden is also a country in which rail travel is much cheaper and more reliable than it is in the UK.

Speaking of which, I’m all in favour of expanding the UK’s rail network and replacing those branch lines lost under the Beeching cuts of the early 1960s, but I think the HS2 project is a waste of money and will destroy far too much of the English countryside, particularly its ancient and dwindling woodlands.

I’m also in favour of many other urgent and essential changes in society. It think we should;

  • Clean up the oceans by removing all plastics and pollutants.
  • Enforce zero tolerance of fly-tipping and littering. Cease the deforestation of rainforests and allow them to recover naturally.
  • Plant billions of trees worldwide to reintroduce woodland habitats, provide timber for sustainable fuels and construction, and for food production.
  • Increase the pace of change from fossil fuels to sustainable energy schemes.
  • Provide grants for householders and businesses to add solar panels to homes and industrial buildings.
  • Use urban areas for more tree planting and the cultivation of food and herbs.
  • Recycle, Repair, and Re-use.
  • Introduce mandatory classes in schools in the growing and cooking of food.
  • Encourage the consumption of locally grown seasonal produce.
  • Stamp out trophy hunting and the slaughter of animals, many of them on the brink of extinction, for quack medicines.
  • Cultivate a reverence and respect for our environment that is as profound as that which is common to indigenous tribes around the world, who can teach us much about harmonious living.

I think all those and more are far more important and will have a much more positive impact on people, places, and wildlife than flying less often.

Global Aviation Industry

The global aviation industry provides essential lifelines for all those developing countries who rely on the commerce and tourism that each flight brings. Flying, particularly for the young, can be inspiring. A child’s flight can be the seed that leads to a career as a scientist and astronanut whose work teaches us the facts about our home planet’s climate. Aviation technology is evolving rapidly.

The development of cleaner, quieter, and more efficient engines is progressively reducing operating costs and having less and less negative impact on the environment.

The first fully electric training aircraft are already on the market (Pipistrel). The first fully electric seaplane took flight in December 2019 in Canada (Harbour Air). More hybrid and full electric prototypes are being flown and tested.

In the 2020s we’re going to see accelerated growth of the Urban Air Mobility market in which piloted and pilotless small aircraft will transport people and goods within and between cities.

Aware of the bad publicity being generated by the environmental concerns, many aviation companies have responded to the challenge by introducing offsetting schemes. Aviation is heading in the right direction and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the developing technologies.

So go on that holiday, be a model passenger for the flight attendants and crew, make an offsetting payment, and donate your spare change to the airline’s charity. There are many other ways of making the world a better place and you might find your visit to a foreign country by air does more good for the people you visit, your family, and yourself than staying at home.

Can aviation go green? This question has been asked many times over the past few years and the Coronavirus pandemic reset the clock in some ways. Predictions that were made only one or two years ago with regard to the aviation industry now have to be recalculated in light of the sudden drop in international air travel in the first half of 2020.

Can aviation go green

As the aviation industry recovers it could be years before passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, so the dire predictions from 2018 or 2019 with regard to CO2 emissions from air travel need to be reconsidered.

Immediately after 9/11 flights were grounded for a mere four days.  The Coronavirus pandemic cleared the skies of all but a small number of aircraft for many months in 2020 and 2021. So, on the one hand there has been a lot less air travel and there will be fewer flights in the immediate future.

The impact of the 2020/2021 pandemic

The catastrophic impact of the pandemic and lockdown has resulted in several airlines going out of business altogether; FlyBe, Avianca, and Virgin Australia to name just three. The industry has lost billions in revenue and thousands of employees have been made redundant as airlines are restructured in order to remain financially viable.

While some hard line environmentalists may gloat over the impact of Covid-19 on the global aviation industry, the loss in revenue means there is less to invest in research into fuel and engine efficiency, with the net result that it may take longer for aviation to go green. People are not going to stop flying and already the green shoots of recovery in the industry are evident. The opportunities for a more sustainable aviation industry haven’t changed but the timescales are now completely different.

Can Aviation Go Green? Sustainable Aviation

Jet fuel still contains more than 14 times more energy per kilo than batteries. There needs to be more use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). These biofuels made from plants, algae, municipal waste, and used cooking oil will need to be used in a greater percentage of aircraft engines.

Aircraft with electric motors are beginning to appear but so far they are short range aircraft for the General Aviation market. The Slovenian company Pipistrel achieved EASA certification for their Velis Electro earlier in 2020. All electric passenger carrying aircraft, even for short commuter routes, are still a few years away but the development is progressing. The Eviation Alice is a likely first contender in this category.

And there is the emerging Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market for which there are several prototypes either flying or on the drawing board.

In order for larger long haul aircraft to reduce their carbon footprint airlines will have to rely on a combination of biofuels, improved aircraft design and efficiency, and carbon offsetting for some years if not decades to come, but gradually the aviation industry will decrease its carbon footprint and it will evolve into a cleaner and greener transport. It’s only a matter of time, and one of the few silver linings to the dark cloud of Covid-19 is the effect that it has had on perspective.

In business and in personal life people used lockdown as a time of reflection, a pause during which they consider the past and the future. Airlines are no different in this respect and though 2020 & 2021 may be remembered as years of loss and pain for many it could also be the low point from which they bounce back with renewed vigour.

The aircraft of the future are going to be powered by all kinds of engines and motors that use a variety of sustainable fuels. Airports too will continue to evolve, developing more efficient processes and systems. So the answer to the question, ‘Can aviation go green?‘ is: aviation is already going green but it may take a little longer that we first thought.

Electrically Powered Aviation
Pipistrel 19 seat concept aircraft

Electrically powered aviation is shaking up the aerospace industry. While the road transport industry has focused on the electric car (with varying amounts of success), attention has now turned to electrically powered aircraft. The driving force behind this development is the need to reduce global aviation’s level of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, satisfying consumer demand is certainly not the only benefit. As well as cleaner flights, electric aircraft could fill a gap in the market that exists right now, namely intercity commuter flights to alleviate the congestion on major road routes.

Not only does the aviation industry have to achieve this (and quickly) for current volumes of air traffic, but also for future growth. It’s going to be a lot easier to sell the idea of a new runway at Heathrow or an entirely new airport if you can assure people that at least some of the aircraft using it will be cleaner and quieter. The stark commercial reality is that passenger numbers could fall if the aviation industry doesn’t invest in the development of hybrid and all electric aircraft.

The Big Players

There are numerous businesses and key individuals who have put their might behind electric-powered aviation technology. The Israeli company Eviation brought their prototype all-electric passenger aircraft Alice to the Paris Airshow early in 2019. The aircraft is powered by three rear facing pusher engines, one on each wingtip and one on the tail.

The first version of this aircraft will be unpressurised and aimed at the air taxi market. It will have a crew of two and seating for 9 passengers. The second pressurised version with a more powerful battery is expected to be launched in 2023. The aircraft has already received orders from companies like Cape Air, who currently have 90 aircraft in their fleet.

While companies like Eviation are focused on building new electric aircraft from scratch, others are working toward converting an existing fleet to electric designs.

This is certainly true for Harbour Air who are working with magniX to convert their own fleet. These hybrid designs would mix conventional aero engines and electric power. They would achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions due to the electrical component being used at certain parts of the flight.

Other companies have joined forces to reach new goals with this technology.

For instance, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, and Airbus are working together to add an electric motor to a British Aerospace 146. The Airbus E-Fan X is quickly progressing through development with testing predicted to begin soon. While this is largely intended for the leisure market at first, the plan is to incorporate commuter aircraft over the next twenty years.

Boeing is working on similar technology with their SUGAR Volt concept. This works in the same way as a hybrid car, mixing electrical power and conventional fuel.

EasyJet announced their investment in electric powered aviation in 2017. Working with Wright Electric, they plan to build aircraft with a range of 335 miles which would be used on routes such as between London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Glasgow.

What about the range?

In the case of Eviation’s Alice the aircraft will be able to travel 650 miles at 10,000 feet. It will do so cruising at 260 knots on a signal charge. As you can see, electric aircraft still require a significant amount of development before they can match the range of aircraft with conventional engines. However, this is a significant improvement from the original electrical aircraft that were severely limited.

The Demand for Short Flights

It’s been estimated that globally, more than two billion air tickets are sold every year for flights that are less than 500 miles. That’s a sizeable market for smaller commuter aircraft and air taxis, and presumably that is the driving force behind the investment and development of this new generation of aircraft. As well as the return in the form of reduced CO2 emissions there are also lower operating costs than aircraft with conventional engines.

The Future Of Passenger Airliners.

Eviation’s Alice is expected to be operating commercially by 2022. Other aircraft may be airborne even faster, with the Airbus E-Fan X program expected to be up and running by 2021.

As for regional airliners, United Technologies is currently working on a hybrid-electric demonstrator that could pave the way forward by 2025. EasyJet’s European plans are going to take a little longer to come to fruition. Their aim is to get the aircraft up in the air and available for passengers within the next ten years.

It seems then that we are certainly on the threshold of a whole new world of air travel. What’s particularly exciting is that this won’t be confined to shorter journeys. We could be flying aboard hybrid or all electric aircraft within 10 years.

Electrically Powered Aviation: Larger & Further

Right now we’re not quite at the level where electric-powered aviation is suitable or even possible for long haul flights. However, the industry is growing rapidly and a paradigm shift in energy storage could make this a reality. This will be determined by whether engineers can create batteries that are smaller, lighter and able to hold even greater levels of power. However, companies certainly have a strong reason to put their full weight behind plans like this. Indeed, the electric aircraft market is predicted to soar and exceed $22 billion within the next fifteen years.

The environmental impact of aviation is a contentious issue with many strong feelings about it so if you have something to say on this subject feel free to comment below.

This post was originally written before the global pandemic of 2020 and its subsequent impact on the aviation industry. It was inspired by a Facebook post in which someone shared a short video encouraging people to fly less often. The video promoted the idea that air travellers could do their bit to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment by lessening demand.

Environmental Impact of Aviation - as compared to that of shipping

It is widely known that the aviation industry is expanding, partly due to passenger demand but also because of an increase in air freight. I too am concerned about the environmental impact of humanity on the planet. In my lifetime the pace and the severity of the damage has increased dramatically.

In the mid 1970s I sent my first donation to what was then a small group of campaigners protesting against nuclear tests in the Pacific and the slaughter of whales in the oceans. That group was called Greenpeace and a few years later they became Greenpeace International.

In the forty years that have passed since the early days of environmentalism many things have got better but a lot of things have also got worse. There’s no room of complacency in any industry and it’s good that we examine the impact we have on the environment, directly or indirectly.

Environmental Impact of Aviation: Sustainable Aviation

Consumers can change their habits and developers can design cleaner and more efficient technologies. All these things are happening now. Take a look at the work of the UK based Sustainable Aviation.

“Sustainable Aviation is a long term strategy which sets out the collective approach of UK aviation to tackling the challenge of ensuring a cleaner, quieter, smarter future for our industry.”

www.sustainableaviation.co.uk

Aviation biofuels were approved for commercial use in 2011 and second generation aviation biofuels are now in development. More fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines have been developed and produced.

Hybrid and electrically powered aircraft are now being designed and the first prototypes are appearing, but none of this research would be possible if the aviation industry was in a slump or permanent decline. It takes investment to carry out research and development and those funds come from the profits of healthy companies.

According to the European Commission’s website, “Direct emissions from aviation account for about 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions and more than 2% of global emissions.”

Compare that to these figures from the International Maritime Organisation’s website, “For the period 2007–2012, on average, shipping accounted for approximately 3.1% of annual global CO2 and approximately 2.8% of annual greenhouse gases.”

Maritime CO2 Emissions

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right and there’s no sense in getting into the distraction of whataboutery, but how often do you hear about environmental campaigns to persuade people to stop buying cheap goods shipped to Europe from overseas, or video pledges and petitions to persuade people to stop taking holidays on cruise ships?

I wonder if these same campaigners have considered the impact of their own buying choices on the tonnage of goods that arrive by sea.

Aviation is an easy target because it’s more visible. Airports are obvious to us and the aircraft that fly in our skies are daily reminder of the industry. Shipping and its impact on the environment is much less apparent to the general public. Container ships cross the oceans constantly, bringing with them some things that may be essential to us but also tons of goods that will soon end up on land-fill sites or worse, dumped in the very oceans that first transported them to us.

Many western countries are crammed with stuff that no one uses. It’s in our lofts, garages, and in storage sites. It isn’t just aero engines and marine engines that need to be more efficient and less polluting. We could also buy and store less junk!

Unintended Consequences of Less Air Travel

We should also consider the unintended consequences of persuading people to stop flying abroad for holidays or making it too expensive for them to do so. Many families and communities on far off islands have come to rely on tourists for their livelihoods.

Tourism is a huge industry in the Caribbean for example, with most visitors arriving by air. How will you explain to them that it’s a good thing they are now unemployed because the tourists are staying at home instead?

Airliners also bring tourists and investors to countries in Africa that use the income the nurture their fragile economies. While cargo aircraft fly to Europe bringing with them fresh produce from African farms relying on markets abroad.

There are many ways in which we, as individuals, can lessen our detrimental impact as a species on the planet. For some it might include not travelling by air but if you take a cruise instead you might be surprised by the amount of CO2 your trip has generated.

I will continue to take guilt-free trips aboard by air as when I can afford them but I will probably travel light and without any palm oil derivative products. I will be glad to contribute in a small way to the industry that employs pilots, cabin crew, airport & airline staff, engineers, baggage handlers, and air traffic controllers.

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