SAS spearheads efforts to reduce emissions
Solving the equation is far from easy. In just over 30 years, the number of aircraft passengers has increased from almost half a billion a year to three billion. Over the next 15 years, this figure is expected to rise to seven billion. Lower fares and greater affluence has meant that more and more people are choosing to fly.
At the same time, the climate is a source of concern, and there is an increasing need to manage greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN Panel on Climate Change, air travel could increase its share of emissions if nothing is done to address the problem.
This is why the aviation industry has joined forces and agreed to a global environmental target of halving total carbon dioxide emissions from their current level by 2050.
“The aviation industry is keen to be involved in driving development in the right direction and helping to achieve a long-term sustainable society,” says Lars Andersen Resare, who works with environment and sustainability issues at SAS.
For SAS, this means a strategy of leaving no stone unturned. Every single percentage of lower fuel consumption reduces the climate impact. For example, having lighter interior, catering trolleys, and baggage containers all helps to reduce the weight of the aircraft and lower fuel consumption.
Even the amount of water for the hand basins on board has been adjusted according to actual need in order to bring down the starting weight of the aircraft. And if 80,000 passengers a day read their newspaper digitally instead of on paper, this would reduce the load taken up into the air by four metric tons.
‘We are doing all we can to minimize the climate impact of our aircraft, and biofuel is part of the solution’
A lot of work has also been put into improving operating procedures, both in the air and on the ground, including shorter waiting times and flying in the right way, at the right height, and with the right balance. A steady approach and gliding on landing, without using the engines, reduces both noise and fuel consumption.
Another example is reducing the time it takes to get mains electricity connected to the aircraft when it arrives at the gate.
“It’s about lots of little things that over time will add up to large-scale reductions in emissions,” Andersen Resare says. “Since 2005, SAS has reduced its total carbon dioxide emissions by almost 13%, even though the number of passengers has increased.”
An outdated and inefficient way of managing traffic in the skies is another potential drain on fuel. Aircraft are sometimes forced to circle above airports, and there are some parts of the world where it is all too rare for a plane to take the most direct and efficient route between two points.
An initiative is underway in Europe to develop a common airspace, known as the Single European Sky, which would bring major climate benefits; it is estimated that a common airspace in Europe could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 16 million metric tons per year.
“Streamlining the airspace is underway in the EU,” Andersen Resare says. “A lot of progress has already been made on this in the Nordic region, and it is something that SAS has been involved in for decades.”
Naturally, new aircraft and new engine technologies are also an important part of the work to reduce climate impact. Today’s aircraft use less than 3–4 deciliters of fuel per passenger for every 10km, depending on the length of the flight.
The life of an aircraft is approximately 30 years. SAS has decided to upgrade the engines and other parts that affect aerodynamics during the lifetime of the aircraft.
Once an airplane has reached the end of its life, it is replaced by a new one, with new technology, better performance, lower weight, and more effective aerodynamics.
Alongside a large number of short-haul aircraft, SAS has also begun a renewal process for its long-haul fleet, with twelve new aircraft on order. In addition to new technology, improved comfort, and reduced noise, each aircraft uses up to 25% less fuel, despite accommodating more passengers.
“And this figure is increasing with each new generation of aircraft,” Andersen Resare says.
The airline industry has agreed to global environmental targets. The overall objective is to create long-term value while helping SAS reach these targets. Here are just a few of the ways we’re working towards creating a sustainable future:
- Replace older aircraft with newer, more efficient models
- Use the right aircraft for the job (don’t fly big planes half-full)
- Work to accelerate the development of alternative and sustainable fuels
- Fully endorse the ‘polluter pays’ principle
- Take responsibility for our share of environmental impact
Read more about SAS’s environmental work at sasgroup.net
One of the key elements of the work to reduce aviation’s share of global carbon dioxide emissions in the slightly longer term is the choice of fuel.
Commercial aircraft use either JET A or JET A1, which are both fossil-based fuels. These have to meet specific high standards in terms of lubrication, flash point, and freezing point, before they can be approved.
The airline industry views the large-scale introduction of biofuel as a possible way of reducing the use of fossil fuels and thus limiting the climate impact of air travel.
Many airlines, among them SAS, have carried out regular flights using a mixture of certified and approved biofuels. The EU has set a target for the aviation industry to use 40% biofuel by 2050.
SAS has now signed an agreement to continuously supply Gardermoen airport in Oslo with a specific quantity of biofuel, from sources such as forestry waste.
In this context, biofuel is a synthetic JET A or JET A1 and has the same properties as fossil jet fuel – only better: it meets strict specifications, is environmentally sustainable, and has the same energy content and a lower freezing point. The only current drawback is that it is a lot more expensive.
SAS is now aiming to gradually increase its use of biofuel, with the ultimate hope of achieving large-scale use, although prices will have to fall for this to be commercially viable.
“We are doing all we can to minimize the climate impact of our aircraft, and biofuel is part of the solution,” Andersen Resare says. “Along with the other major players, we are doing what we can to accelerate commercialization and achieve prices that are more competitive.”
Text: Mats Wigardt
Published: July 2, 2015