Alaska Airlines has reaffirmed its environmental credentials. On Wednesday, the Seattle-based airline detailed its broader climate change strategy. This includes signing up to a global carbon agreement and outlining an ambitious 2040 net-zero emissions goal.

Alaska Airlines releases sustainability report, signs net-zero emission pledge

On Wednesday, Alaska Airlines released its 2020 LIFT Sustainability Report. The report sets out five focus areas the airline wants to concentrate on to reach that 2040 goals.

Those five focus areas are fleet renewal, pursuing operational efficiencies, investing in and developing sustainable aviation fuels, novel propulsion, and credible, high-quality carbon offsetting technologies.

In addition to releasing its sustainability report, Alaska Airlines also signed onto The Climate Pledge. That pledge is a commitment to achieving net-zero-carbon 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.

“We must operate every day in a way that cares for both people and our planet,” said Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci. “That’s why we’ve set out on this bold path to reduce our climate impact near and long term.”

Five focus areas for Alaska Airlines to achieve net-zero emissions

In addition to safety and reliability, Alaska Airlines says targeting operational efficiencies is a straightforward way to reduce fuel burn and carbon emissions.

In the short term, the airline is taxiing aircraft using only one engine. It is also only using preconditioned air in airports. Alaska Airlines says it will expand its use of first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to plan and optimize routes.

The airline also wants to slash emissions from its ground services equipment by 2025. Alaska Airlines will achieve this through the purchase and use of electric ground equipment and other renewables.

Alaska’s fleet renewal is focused on the 737 MAX. Alaska Airlines has now placed 68 firm orders for 737 MAX 9s with Boeing. There are options to order 52 more. These planes have a 22% better fuel efficiency on a seat-by-seat basis than the aircraft they replace. Alaska Airlines says they’ll keep working with Boeing to build incremental further efficiencies in the plane.

Ben Minicucci reckons every gallon of sustainable aviation fuel has up to 80% less carbon emissions on a lifecycle basis than traditional jet fuel. Alaska Airlines says sustainable aviation fuel is perfectly safe. As an added advantage, it can also be easily blended with traditional kerosine based fuel.

To that end, the airline has partnered with both fuel developers and corporate customers to harness the benefits of sustainable aviation fuel. But Alaska Airlines also notes that supply and cost issues surrounding sustainable aviation fuel remain unresolved.

Alaska Airlines eyes electric propulsion for planes with 10 years

In addition to developing sustainable aviation fuels, Alaska Airlines is eyeing novel propulsion techniques, notably electric aircraft. Ben Minicucci believes we’ll see electric vertical take-off and landing within ten years.

“I think you’ll see low passenger airplanes, maybe five to ten (passengers) at first, then moving bigger into the regional market. You’ll see it (eVTOL) penetrate the regional market in the course of the next 10 to 20 years,” he told a US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in late March.

Alaska Airlines says the aviation industry is a tough sector to decarbonize. This is particularly so until sustainable aviation fuels and novel propulsion techniques are further developed. The costs also need to decrease.

In the meantime, the airline is committing to credible carbon offset programs as it pursues net zero emissions. However, Alaska Airlines acknowledges carbon offsets do need to be verifiable and long-lasting.

Alaska Airlines’ Diana Birkett Rakow says achieving net-zero emissions by 2040 depend on embedding sustainability even deeper in the airline’s culture, setting bold goals and collaborating with partners.

“We must work together with government, manufacturers, innovators and other industry partners to decarbonize aviation,” Ms Birkett Rakow says.

“We know that setting ambitious goals, measuring our progress, and then holding ourselves accountable is the key to real progress.”

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