ALPA Hails Aviation's Green Accomplishments, Continued Progress

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

The airline industry has made truly remarkable progress in taking proactive, self-directed measures to reduce its carbon footprint. A new ALPA white paper titled “Airlines and the Environment” highlights this achievement, pointing out that new aircraft technologies combined with updated pilot and other operational procedures have led to an 80 percent decrease in airline carbon dioxide emissions per seat mile since the introduction of jet airliners in the 1950s.

To help achieve these results, the Association has collaborated with industry on various new technologies, including sharklets and winglets, which increase aircraft efficiency, and more fuel-efficient and powerful engines.

Today, air travel accounts for only 2 percent of human activity–caused global emissions, and the aviation industry continuously looks for ways to improve productivity and limit its impact on the environment. Despite this extraordinary effort, some environmental extremists have opted to ignore these perennial accomplishments and wage a campaign of flight shaming as a means to discourage air transportation.

“Far from being ashamed, airline pilots are proud to be part of an industry that drives a truly global economy and enables anyone to do business in any corner of the globe, an impossibility just a few decades ago,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, in the white paper’s introduction. “We take great pride in safely transporting millions of travelers to their destinations and delivering high-value cargo around the world, every day, while taking aggressive, proactive measures to reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption.”

In addition to continued efforts to reduce its ecological effect, the global airline industry represents 3.6 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. As of 2018, it employed 65.5 million workers with jobs that are 4.4 times more productive than those in other industries. Cargo airliners transport goods anywhere in the world, creating all types of related businesses and job opportunities. Many isolated communities, including those in northern Canada, depend on air transportation for food, medicines, and other necessities. In all, the economic and social benefits available—thanks to aviation—are immeasurable and worthy of everyone’s support.

“Airlines and the Environment” cites numerous reasons why conservation advocates, governments, and the public should rally behind and celebrate air travel. Among these validations, flying remains the safest mode of transportation. The white paper reports that from 2009 to 2019, there was only one U.S. airline passenger fatality. Motor vehicle (i.e., car and light truck) accidents in the U.S. accounted for more than 220,000 casualties during that period, and no other mode of transportation comes close to achieving the airline industry’s enviable safety record.

On the aircraft manufacturing front, there have been many advances in the design of aircraft engines and airframes aimed specifically at reducing drag and fuel consumption. And while these actions have delivered landmark results, operational changes like the implementation of enhanced departure-flow operations mean fewer aircraft waiting in departure-taxi holding lines and reduced taxi-out times, which also reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Other reasons for promoting air travel include the industry’s use of less-polluting, alternative and sustainable aviation fuels and considerations for electric aircraft to address travel to smaller communities. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the specialized branch of the United Nations charged with the planning and development of international air transportation, has issued policy for achieving worldwide carbon-neutral growth by 2020 in the aviation industry, which ALPA fully supports. The white paper also addresses specific actions governments can take to assist the airline industry in its ecofriendly endeavors.

The aviation industry continues to make tremendous strides in environmental sustainability, but not because governments have imposed regulatory requirements to do so. Rather, real progress has been achieved because the airline industry realizes that applying these improvements simply makes good business sense and because airlines have a strong desire to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment.

“During its nearly 90 years of existence, ALPA has been at the forefront of the unceasing effort to make airline travel safer and better,” DePete asserted. “The aviation industry has a great story to tell about its environmental accomplishments and goals, and ALPA is very proud to provide its perspective on that story in this white paper.”

Going Greener

Read ALPA’s “Airlines and the Environment” white paper. To learn more about how the airline industry is reducing its carbon footprint and improving fuel efficiency, see “Proud to Fly—By the Numbers."

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)