Greenhouse gas reduction and fuel management
A rigorous fuel management and
greenhouse gas reduction program
"Our priority is to achieve real greenhouse gas emissions reductions while informing our customers and making them aware that travelling lighter can help in the fight against climate change.”
— Allen B. Graham, President, Air Transat
Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially CO2, are a factor in climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), meanwhile, stated in the 2007 Davos Declaration that, overall, tourism may account for 5% of emissions.
A rigorous program of aircraft fuel consumption management enables real, measurable reductions in GHG emissions attributable to air transport. In 2003, Air Transat developed and began applying such a program, and has continued to refine it ever since. It has resulted in a significant decrease in fuel consumption. Air Transat thus ranks among the carriers that have adopted air transport industry best practices when it comes to fuel management. The firm commitment of our employees has been, and continues to be, a determining factor in the success of our program.
Greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft
Air travel remains one of the world’s most efficient means of public transportation, and the airline industry is firmly committed to meeting the challenge of climate change, thanks in part to evolving technology. Over the past 40 years, for example, average fuel consumption per passenger has dropped by 70%. It is expected that between 2005 and 2020, consumption will decrease by 25%, and the industry has made commitments in this regard. It is also estimated that emissions could be lowered by 12% over the very short term if governments made efforts to reduce crowded skies, along with congestion at certain airports.
In 2011, Air Transat’s fuel consumption was 3.15 litres per passenger/100 kilometres, which is a fuel consumption that compares quite favourably to that of any automobile. Our calculations show that this corresponds to 7.97 kilograms of CO2 per passenger/100 km. CO2 emissions from Air Transat’s flight operations in 2011 totalled 1,343,450 tonnes.
CO2 emissions from Air Transat flights (November 1 to October 31)
||Total CO2 emissions
(in metric tonnes)
|Fuel consumption (litres)
(per passenger/100 kilometres)
||3.15 litres (7.97 kg)
||3.30 litres (8.35 kg)
||3.28 litres (8.30 kg)
||3.26 litres (8.25 kg)
||3.17 litres (8.02 kg)
Total CO2 emissions are directly related to the number of flights made and, with the exception of 2010, our flight operations have grown year over year.
In 2008, the reduction in the number of seats aboard our aircraft directly impacted fuel consumption per passenger. In 2011, our performance in this area improved because of the greater number of more fuel-efficient Airbus A330s in the fleet. There may be other reasons for the variances, including load factors, the quantity of cargo carried and flight length.
Approximate quantities of CO2 emissions per passenger, return flights (2011)
||Approximate flying distance
Quantity of CO2 per passenger (complete return flight)
In metric tonnes
|Toronto – Athens
|Montreal – Paris
|Vancouver – London
|Montreal – Cancun
|Toronto – Cuba
|Toronto – Fort Lauderdale
Air Transat serves some 60 destinations in about 30 countries, including several sun destinations and major European cities year-round. In summer, no other airline offers as many direct flights between Canada and Europe (around 60).
Air Transat’s fuel management program
Air Transat’s fuel management program, considered one of the best of its kind, is characterized by its rigorous approach. Most of the program’s measures have also been adopted by other carriers, but Air Transat stands out in that has systematically applied them, and refined their application, thanks in part to collaborative efforts with top experts, constant teamwork and boundless motivation.
Our fuel-saving initiatives involve flight operations, flight planning, ground operations, engineering and catering services. While some measures outwardly may seem quite ordinary, they translate into impressive numbers over a full year of operations. Following is just a brief glimpse of the components of Air Transat’s program.
Aircraft weight reduction
The easiest method of reducing an aircraft’s fuel consumption is to reduce its weight. Physics takes care of the rest: over an equal flying distance, a lighter plane will burn less fuel. For example, Air Transat’s planes are equipped with lighter-weight lifejackets and cargo containers.
Another weight-reduction measure has been to reduce the amounts of drinking water and certain products for consumption carried on aircraft, depending on the destination. Rather than needlessly loading aircraft and applying the same parameters on all routes, statistical analyses have been conducted to precisely evaluate the necessary quantities of these items for given flight times and destinations. Even with the application of reasonable safety margins, the weight savings are substantial.
Travellers can do their part
Passengers can easily do their part. Travelling lighter means saving fuel. Pack one less pair of shoes, buy a paperback at your destination instead of before you leave, use smaller bottles – and a few million passengers later, many tonnes of CO2 emissions will have been avoided.
Flight plan optimization
The average person probably thinks a flight plan is pretty simple: (“Let’s see, we have to go from Point A to Point B, following a straight line and flying at a certain speed…”). In fact, the preparation of a flight plan is a complex procedure that must take a number of variables into consideration. For instance, aircraft performance and fuel consumption depend a great deal on altitude (because of the changing density of the atmosphere, for example), wind speed (tailwinds improve performance) and air speed (which is related to flight time). There are also constraints imposed by air traffic control, and specific rules to be followed on transoceanic flights. Flight plan optimization is one of the fundamental components of Air Transat’s fuel management program.
To this end, the airline has acquired a software application that enables refinements to flight planning procedures by assessing a greater number of variables. Some weather data, for instance, are now updated more frequently, enabling pilots to make minor altitude adjustments to take advantage of tailwinds. Air Transat has set up a task force that, using these new tools, can now determine optimum flight plans with much greater precision. This includes calculating the precise quantity of fuel to load into tanks and determining the optimal aircraft speed (a lower speed, resulting in a few minutes more flight time, may prove efficient), etc., all of which translates into average savings of about 500 kg of fuel per flight.
Each year, the world’s airlines burn thousands of tonnes of fuel while their planes are simply taxiing between terminals and runways. Before takeoff as well as after landing, an aircraft typically taxis for about 15 minutes. Air Transat has adopted several measures aimed at reducing fuel consumption during ground movements of aircraft, the most important of which is introducing single-engine taxiing. A further benefit of this measure is reduced noise.
Upon landing, pilots decelerate using a combination of aerodynamic spoilers, thrust reversers and brakes. Traditionally, they have favoured use of the thrust reversers so as to minimize brake wear – but this requires burning a certain amount of fuel to preserve engine thrust. With the advent of carbon brakes, which resist high temperatures better than traditional steel brakes, Air Transat has formally instituted a procedure whereby pilots use idle reverse thrust as opposed to maximum reverse thrust after landing, which reduces both fuel consumption and noise.
A further technique developed by Air Transat involves the method of cargo and baggage loading, which optimizes the aircraft’s centre of gravity. Ensuring that the centre of gravity is shifted slightly aft, rather than forward, improves an aircraft’s performance by modifying the angle of attack, which in turn allows it to burn slightly less fuel. Given that an aircraft spends many hours cruising, even a tiny improvement in this regard can make a significant difference. Once it perfected this technique, Air Transat set up a program to train the appropriate personnel in optimum cargo and baggage loading.
In terms of aircraft maintenance, there are many measures, some relatively inexpensive, that can produce fuel savings. For example, something as simple as chipped and scratched paint can affect an aircraft’s aerodynamics. Immediate repairs can make a big difference, and to this end, Air Transat has implemented improved inspection procedures. The company has also discovered that more frequent engine washes can result in significant gains. Engine washes clean hydrocarbons, dirt, grime and insects that build up on fan blades and compressor blades, and allow engines to burn less fuel to achieve the equivalent amount of thrust.
In short, investments in software and equipment, and especially the energy and professionalism of an entire team, allow our passengers to fly with their minds at ease, knowing that every litre of fuel is being burned efficiently.
What is Transat’s position regarding carbon offets for travellers?
Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially CO2, are a factor in climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), meanwhile, stated in the 2007 Davos Declaration that, overall, tourism may account for 5% of emissions. And experts now seem to accept that emissions related to air transport, because they occur at high altitudes, have a more severe impact than that which would normally correspond to their relative mass of 2%.
In the travel industry, particularly when it comes to medium- and long-distance travel, there are no real alternatives to air transport. Tourism is one of the most important industries in the world, and it depends in large measure on air transport—as do more than 200 million jobs around the globe. For many countries, a drop in the influx of tourists would be a recipe for economic disaster. In fact, if tourism were a country, it would have the second-largest economy in the world, behind that of the United States.
It is also important to understand that the primary sources of GHGs have nothing to do with the travel industry. Deforestation alone (which often results from the pressures of agricultural development) is responsible for 24% of GHG emissions, according to the Rainforest Alliance, which also maintains that agriculture is the main threat to biodiversity, ahead of global warming.
Production of fossil fuels—let alone their use—is an enormous source of GHGs. And, of course, ground transport, including automobiles, is responsible for a huge proportion of GHGs. The difference is that in these areas, there are alternatives, as well as effective measures to combat the problem.
Many travel companies, through their websites, make it possible for travellers to purchase carbon credits, which in principle allow them to “eliminate” the GHGs emitted as a result of their trips, through investments in a variety of projects. This kind of measure can be effective provided that two main conditions are met:
- The proposed project must actually enable elimination of GHGs. This is true of projects that, for example, target replacement of coal as an energy source by solar or wind power. A popular option these days is reforestation projects, but experts’ opinions on these projects are widely divergent. While it is true that vegetation stores carbon, every tree will eventually die, and the carbon will be released again. Moreover, the scope of these reforestation projects is sometimes exaggerated: immediate gains are touted, when it fact it will take up to 70 or 80 years to achieve them—and then, only if the tree survives that long! The best way for travellers to be sure of actually eliminating carbon dioxide is to choose projects that meet the “Gold Standard.” Such projects are certified by a group of non-governmental organizations and offer real guarantees that GHGs will actually be eliminated.
- The chosen carbon credit broker must be credible. The carbon credit market is not regulated. All sorts of organizations have got into the game. Some are non-profits, while others are corporations looking to make money; some describe their projects with utmost transparency, while others do not; some rely on external auditors and disclose the amounts of the administrative fees that they charge, while others do not.
Currently, some countries around the world tax airline passengers in the name of environmental protection. One such country is the United Kingdom, which charges fees of £80 and £40 (depending on seat class) to all visitors. Unfortunately, the money collected is generally not reinvested in environmental programs; it simply goes to general government funds. We find this situation deplorable; among other things, it can potentially render travellers’ carbon credit purchases redundant.
In addition, as of 2012, air carriers serving EU countries will be required to purchase quotas corresponding to their GHG emissions, under the European Emissions Trading Scheme. The cost of these purchases, which will become just one more operating expense for airlines, will eventually be passed on to passengers, making any personal purchase of carbon credits illogical.
In this context, Transat believes that we should all place priority on reducing GHG emissions. We therefore promote a number of measures, including the following:
- Air Transat has implemented a fuel-management program that is one of the most rigorous in the industry.
- Air Transat is also particularly vigilant with respect to all supplies loaded onto its aircraft, because the amount of fuel consumed is directly dependent on the total weight of the plane.
- We are working to reduce our energy consumption in all of our facilities, and urge all of our suppliers to do the same—particularly at destination, where energy often comes from traditional sources.
- We have standardized the use of recycled or certified paper, and we make efforts to limit paper consumption, since this is an effective means of combatting deforestation, which is itself a major source of GHGs.
To sum up, the issue of GHGs is a complex one. Everybody can do their part to reduce their contribution to global warming, first of all by making sure that all of their energy consumption is justified. And travellers who wish to offset their GHG emissions can do so by dealing with credible organizations that promote effective projects.