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Clearer skies: How airlines are flying the flag for sustainability – part 1.

Green paper airplane

Travel by air is often dubbed the safest form of transport on earth but its sustainability reputation has been under the microscope over the years as airlines have faced increasing pressures for their environmental impacts. But the industry has answered these pressures with firm and achievable targets, like the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) target of industry-wide emissions being halved by 2050. But what’s the plan for getting there? Who are the stand-out performers among airlines and what are they doing to achieve, or even go beyond this target? We’re here to tell you about the airlines that are flying the sustainability flag and deploying new and innovative tactics to improve the industry perceptions and make tangible changes to their environmental impacts.


The Lufthansa Group

Starting with the largest buyer of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in Europe. The Lufthansa Group have its sights set on the ambitious target of halving its 2019 carbon emission levels by 2030, with a net-zero target of 2050. The plan to get there includes accelerating fleet modernisation, continually optimising flight operations, using SAF and providing innovative procedures that make passenger flights more carbon neutral.

Green choices

For bookers, Lufthansa has integrated the option of flying carbon-neutral when booking flights, with customers seeing three options, which, if chosen, would offer additional status and award miles. Other airlines under The Lufthansa Group will be joining suit in Q2 of this year:

  1. Using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

  2. Certified climate protection projects.

  3. A combination of both.

On top of this, the Lufthansa frequent flyer and awards programme, Miles & More offers its members the ability to compensate for their personal flight emissions by activating the ‘mindfulflyer’ function – something travellers can do straight from the Miles & More app.

Fleet modernisation and new technology

The Lufthansa Group is constantly modernising its fleet. In 2021, it took delivery of eleven new more fuel-efficient and quiet aircraft, and in 2022, the company expects to take delivery of 29 more. Additionally, 180 new highly efficient aircraft will be introduced by 2030.

New technologies are in constant development in this sector, and another is AeroShark, an innovative surface technology that reduces drag and fuel consumption, reduces CO₂ emissions by 26,800 tonnes and helps to avoid using 8,500 tonnes of kerosene. Approach technologies have seen increased digitisation too, helping to reduce fuel consumption during landing.

Flight operations

It’s not all about tech and new aircraft though. Efficiency concepts for take-off/landing and Improvement to flight path planning are expected to generate additional fuel savings. Such changes reduced fuel consumption in Frankfurt and Munich alone by 560 tonnes (around 1,800 tonnes of CO₂) in 2021. 

Investing in Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)

Traditional jet fuel allows airlines to travel far and wide without adding much weight but it just isn’t environmentally sustainable. SAFs offer a range of new and emerging fuel technologies to offer solutions to the challenge of fuel emissions. The Lufthansa Group is the largest buyer of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in Europe and secured $250m of the fuel to meet increased demand in the coming years. Here are the significant areas they’ve invested:

  • As the launching customer for synthetic kerosene from the world’s first industrial production facility for Power-to-Liquid (PtL) fuel in Werlte, they will purchase at least 25,000 litres of this type of fuel annually over the next five years. Read more on PtL fuel.

  • Agreed a strategic partnership to bring Solar Aviation Fuel (SAF) to market. Synhelion is a pioneer in the production of SAF from renewable energy sources. The unique procedure uses concentrated solar heat to manufacture syngas which can then be synthesized into kerosene using standard industrial processes. Read more on SAF and The Lufthansa Group’s partnership with Synhelion.

Reducing waste

Sights have also been set on reducing onboard waste. In 2021, Lufthansa Group achieved a 71% reduction of single-plastic parts. Onboard, its airlines have committed to reducing single-use plastics by introducing measures that avoid in-flight food waste, like selling unsold fresh food on the last flight of the day at a 50% discount.

By September 2021, the share of discarded leftover perishable products had been reduced by 16th% on Lufthansa 14% on SWISS and 26% on Austrian Airlines.


Singapore Airlines

With an average age of six years, customers flying with Singapore Airlines can enjoy one of the most modern and fuel-efficient fleets in the skies.

To complement Singapore Airlines’ long-standing fleet-renewal policy, with support from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and global investment company Temasek, will purchase blended SAF from ExxonMobil as part of a one-year pilot. The 1.25 million litres of neat SAF is produced from used cooking oil and waste animal fats, this is then blended with refined jet fuel at ExxonMobil’s facilities in Singapore. From the third quarter of 2022, all Singapore Airlines flights will be using this blended fuel.

The use of SAF over one year is expected to reduce 2,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions to advance Singapore Airlines’ commitment to carbon-neutral growth and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


British Airways

British Airways outline its sustainability plans and journey in its ‘BA Better World’ programme, where they affirm that sustainability is at the heart of its business. It has also published its roadmap to net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, which featured an impressive list of efficiencies, investments in new technology, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), carbon offsets and removals.

The airline acknowledges that if no improvements were made to efficiency, then aviation’s carbon emissions would grow over time as demand for air travel increases. But by investing in new aircraft, changing how they fly and introducing new low- and zero-emissions aircraft, they could reduce emissions by around a third by 2050, with a further third of emissions reductions coming from the use of SAF and the final third coming from carbon reductions and removals in other sectors. So, they made significant investments in SAF, like investing in SAF technology provider LanzaJet, flying the first transatlantic flight powered by SAF at a 35% blend and announcing a new partnership with Phillips 66 to offtake SAF from its Humber refinery. Longer-term fuel plans include investing in ZeroAvia, its hydrogen propulsion partner, aimed at accelerating the development of 50+ seater aircraft capable of running on zero-emissions hydrogen-electric power.

Reducing waste

Changes to amenity kits and sourcing alternatives to single-use plastics are also high on BA’s agenda. The airline has been able to remove over 10million items of plastics from its flights. A combination of paper branding on its blankets, segregating recyclable materials and donating surplus food and blankets to charity are just a few of the initiatives being implemented.

Future plans

There’s more to come from BA, with plans to introduce new plant-based menu options, further reduction of single-use plastics, the introduction of new ways for customers to offset emissions associated with their flights and continued investments in low carbon innovations like aircraft and fuels. They also aim to improve internal governance and focus on sustainability with a new dedicated Board committee and plans for embedding sustainability principles across BA.


But that’s just part of the sustainability story for airlines.

Take a look at part 2 of our airline sustainability series for more of the changes that we’re seeing to create clearer skies.