Astounding differences in fuel consumption among the biggest transatlantic airlines came to light yesterday, with some big legacy carriers shown to be up to 51% less fuel-efficient than their smaller lower-cost rivals.
A new 43-page study by the International Council on Clean Transportation found Norwegian Air Shuttle, German-based Air Berlin and Ireland’s national flag carrier Aer Lingus had the smallest carbon footprints among 20 transatlantic carriers in 2014.
British Airways, SAS and Lufthansa were all heavyweights with big feet – or at least big carbon footprints – notching up the worst CO2 performance, as measured by passenger kilometres per litre of fuel burned.
The order, from best to worst, was:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air France
- US Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
- British Airways
Among facts to emerge from the survey:
- The fuel efficiency gap between the most and least fuel-efficient airlines on 2014 transatlantic operations was 51%. That is roughly twice the performance gap between the best and worst U.S. airlines on domestic operations (25% in 2014).
- The three least-efficient airlines (Lufthansa, SAS, and British Airways) were collectively responsible for one-fifth of transatlantic available seat kilometres and burned 44% to 51% more fuel per passenger kilometre than the most efficient, Norwegian Air Shuttle.
- A nonstop round-trip transatlantic flight averaged about one tonne of CO2 emissions per passenger, equivalent to emissions from a 35-km daily commute in a Toyota Prius over a work year.
- Seating configuration and aircraft fuel burn (i.e., fuel economy of the aircraft operated) are the two most important factors influencing airline fuel efficiency; together they explain about 80% of the variation in fuel efficiency among the airlines studied.
- Passenger load factor (i.e., percentage of seats filled) and freight carriage are relatively less important drivers of fuel efficiency.
- Airlines that have invested in new, advanced aircraft (e.g., Norwegian Air Shuttle) are significantly more fuel-efficient than airlines flying older planes, highlighting the crucial role of technology (and thus performance standards) in driving down fuel consumption and associated carbon emissions.
- The impact of premium seating on emissions is substantial: first class and business seats accounted for only 14% of available seat kilometers flown on transatlantic routes but approximately one-third of total carbon emissions. For carriers like British Airways and Swiss, premium seating was responsible for almost one-half of their total emissions from passenger travel.
Edited by Peter Needham