Must-know: Environmental awareness in the airline industry

Teresa Cederholm - Author

Sep. 8 2014, Updated 9:00 a.m. ET

Environmental awareness in the airline industry

The global aviation industry consumes over 200 million tons of fuel per year. The rising demand for air transport and the rising crude oil prices could impact the industry’s carbon emissions. The environmental impact could also influence sustainability. According to the Air Transport Action Group (or ATAG), the airline industry’s impact on the environment is as follows:

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  • The global aviation industry processes 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide (or CO2) emissions. Air travel is responsible for 12% of the total emissions from the transportation industry.
  • Alternative fuels, like sustainable biofuels, are expected to reduce the aviation carbon footprint of fuel by 80%.
  • 80% of the CO2 emissions are from flights that are longer than 1,500 kilometers. There’s no alternative mode of transport.


The goal of the IATA’s Carbon Neutral Growth (or CNG) 2020 is to put a cap on the increase in net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020. The association’s success depends on several factors. The factors include the adoption of a CO2 emission standard for new aircraft by the International Civil Aviation Organization (or ICAO). It also includes the growth in biofuel production and improvement in air traffic management. It also intends to achieve an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year until 2020. All major companies in the U.S. airline industry—including Delta (DAL), United (UAL), American (AAL), JetBlue (JBLU), and Southwest (LUV)—have contributed to achieving this goal through using advanced technology.

Recent developments in alternative fuel options

Sustainable aviation fuels are processed from a variety of feedstock. The feedstock includes industrial waste and biomass—wheat, corn, and oil. It also includes oil plants—jatropha and camelina. Feedstock are renewable sources of energy that can be blended with fossil fuels. They can reduce CO2 emissions significantly.

The two alternative jet fuels that were approved earlier include Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (or HEFA)—conversion of triacylglycerides from plant oils and animal processing waste—and the Fischer-Tropsch (or FT) process—conversion of biomass and fossil fuel feedstock. The American Society for Testing Materials (or ASTM) International—the largest standards development organization in the world—has now approved the use of a new fuel called Synthesized Iso Paraffinic (or SIP). It’s produced from hydroprocessed fermented sugars. SIP fuel can be blended at up to 10% by volume to conventional jet fuel.


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