Canada’s flag-carrier has joined the net-zero by 2050 club. Today, Air Canada announced an ambitious new environmental target and the broad outlines of how it intends to get there. A fuel-efficient fleet along with investments in sustainable aviation fuels and carbon capture technology will help advance de-carbonization in the airline industry, the carrier said.
Some believed that the COVID-19 crisis would set commercial aviation’s environmental work back as airlines would be more focused on recovery rather than sustainability. Others say that this is the perfect opportunity for carriers to regroup and recommit to environmental targets and emerge on the other side of the pandemic with a greener game than ever.
One of the airlines making the most of the temporary lull in operations with a bold statement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is Air Canada. The Star Alliance carrier announced today that it has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
The airline has first set a less-than-mid-term target of reducing emissions from flights by 20% and ground operations by 30%, by 2030 compared to a 2019 baseline. Furthermore, Air Canada says it will invest CA$50 million (US$40 million) in sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), as well as carbon reduction and removal.
“Climate change is critical, and we believe we can and must do more to address this for the future of our environment. This is why we are further embedding climate considerations into our strategic decision-making, and undertaking a very ambitious plan that is meaningful, will support Canada’s leadership position on climate change, advance de-carbonization in the airline industry while keeping fares affordable for customers,” Michael Rousseau, President and CEO at Air Canada said in a statement.
Four ‘key pillars’
The airline says it will reach its ambitious targets through a combination of efforts within several key ‘carbon reduction pillars’.
Fleet and operations – Air Canada says it will continue to deploy its modernized A220 and 737 MAX narrowbody fleets. These aircraft average approximately 20% less fuel consumption than the aircraft they are replacing. In addition, they also emit about 20% less CO2 and 50% less nitrogen oxide.
Furthermore, Air Canada says it will integrate climate factors in its route planning and phase-out carbon-intensive ground equipment.
Innovation – Air Canada has committed to evaluating new electric, hydrogen or hybrid operational technologies. It will also continue to assess ‘other innovations such as short-haul transportation opportunities’ along with drones to support its network.
SAFs and clean energy – The Canadian flag-carrier is investing CA$50 million into SAFs and other low carbon aviation fuel (LCAF) development. It will also evaluate the practical application of other renewable energy sources and energy transition measures.
Carbon reduction and removals – Air Canada says it will explore carbon-negative emission technologies along with other direct emission reduction and removal strategies. This is to be done in addition to carbon-offsetting strategies to comply with CORSIA.
While the pillars are quite clear, their content, other than fleet specifications, are thus far pretty vague. However, Air Canada has promised to deliver more details on its highly ambitious plan in the coming weeks, and we look very much forward to reading specifics about how it intends to go about reaching the target.
The list grows longer
Air Canada is not the only commercial airline to commit to net-zero emissions by mid-century. In September 2020, the oneworld members made an alliance-wide commitment to the same target. They have set up a working group to ensure that airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Moroc, S7, and newcomer Alaska Airlines will collaborate on a common roadmap.
The group is co-chaired by Qantas’ executive manager of sustainability and future planet, David Young, and IAG’s group head of sustainability, Jonathon Counsell. Several of the oneworld airlines, such as Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas, already had net-zero targets in place.
United Airlines also committed to net-zero by 2050 in December last year, a much more substantial commitment than its previous goal for a 50% reduction by the same year, set in 2018. United also announced that it would be investing in carbon-capturing technology.
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