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Aviation & Sustainability: What are Airlines Doing To Mitigate Challenges With every passing year, climate change is becoming alarming and the aviation sector has a significant role to play. The airlines are working towards development and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale, incorporating uniforms made of sustainable and recycled materials, among others, to mitigate these challenges

By Shrabona Ghosh

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India is the world's third largest aviation market and has ambitious expansion plans in the near future. With every passing year, climate change is becoming alarming and without a collective effort across sectors, mitigating the challenges would be difficult. The aviation sector has a significant role to play.

For India's newest airline Akasa Air, sustainability is one of the core focus areas: It is an environmentally progressive airline with the youngest and greenest fleet in Indian skies.

"Today, passengers are increasingly seeking environmentally friendly options to travel and in this regard, Akasa is an environmentally progressive airline with the youngest and greenest fleet in global aviation," said Vinay Dube, founder and CEO, Akasa Air.

Powered by CFM International LEAP- 1B engines that incorporate advanced technology winglets, the 737 MAX offers excellent economics, reducing fuel use and emissions by 20 per cent compared to the aircraft it replaces. Further, the Boeing 737 is a quieter aircraft, with 50 per cent smaller noise footprint offering 20 per cent lower airframe maintenance costs. Even the uniform designed for cabin crew uses sustainable and recycled materials. Café Akasa meals are served in 100 per cent recyclable packaging.

"Beyond sustainable aviation, as we roll out our products and services you can start to see a demonstration of our commitment in every area of our offering – be it our office premises, airports, in-flight and in our engagement with partners," Dube added.

At Vistara Airlines, sustainability is embedded in its strategy, "We are taking multiple steps to reduce emissions through operational efficiencies," Vinod Kannan, CEO, Vistara told Entrepreneur India in a previous interview.

One of its strengths is the young fleet of aircraft as it decided to invest in modern, advanced aircraft with fuel-efficient engines from the very beginning. The fleet of A320NEO, A321NEO and B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft are powered by leading-edge technologies and advanced systems that reduce engine noise as well as nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Using new-generation aircraft significantly contribute towards keeping carbon dioxide levels low and achieving better fuel efficiency.

"We are also investing in various emerging green technologies. For instance, we are digitalising several processes with the objective to reduce the use of paper thereby managing the weight of the aircraft and saving fuel. We have cut down on auxiliary power unit (APU) usage at airports, providing ground equipment alternatives that have helped reduce CO2 emissions per aircraft per turnaround. We also use e-tugs or electric power tuggers for day-to-day maintenance task logistics runs to minimize emissions across several other operations," added Kannan.

The airline has also installed smart lavatories in all A320/ A321 aircraft leading to weight reduction of around 150 kgs per aircraft. Additionally, it undertakes aircraft exterior cleaning once every 15 days, thereby reducing fuel burn. "We recently launched the Vistara Green Miles initiative under the focus area of environment and sustainability, that aims at enhancing the country's green cover and promoting a circular economy to protect biodiversity."

Moreover, the airline uses reusable stainless-steel cutlery in business and premium economy cabins in all flights and is progressively introducing biodegradable bamboo cutlery onboard. The paper napkins used in all flights are also produced with recycled paper. The airline undertook the initiative of recycling its inflight magazine, wherein over 1,000 kgs of the previous magazine issues were recycled. We are now exploring ways to make this a sustained practice.

The aviation industry should aim for carbon-neutral growth through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme set up by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). "The IATA scheme recommends that aviation industries gradually introduce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The application of this increasingly available fuel can produce massive GHG reductions (65-100 per cent) concerning currently used fossil jet fuel. Although a change in aviation fuel is generally followed by a change in aircraft engines, SAF demands zero equipment or infrastructure investments. However, this is applicable only for the SAFs qualified under ASTM International Standard D7566," said GBRI in its blog.

Recently, Air India placed a huge order comprising of 40 Airbus A350s, 20 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777-9s widebody aircraft, as well as 210 Airbus A320/321 Neos and 190 Boeing 737 MAX single-aisle aircraft. "Air India is committed to sustainability goals set by IATA. The new aircraft order should be seen in the perspective of this commitment as the aircraft will be more efficient with less emission. Apart from this, we have also working with CSIR-IIP on the development and adoption of SAF at scale," said an Air India spokesperson.

IndiGo, one of India's leading airlines, is committed to an ESG strategy. As of now, their core target for 2023 is related to emissions from jet fuel. Their decarbonisation plan focuses on cutting fuel emissions, introducing SAF and implementing carbon offsetting measures. A key element of the strategy is renewing the fleet with more fuel-efficient Airbus A320 and A321neo aircraft.

According to a blog by Airbus, a leading manufacturer of aerospace products worldwide, since 2011, SAF has powered more than 450,000 commercial flights around the world. However, global SAF production represents 0.03 per cent of fuel use (based on pre-pandemic numbers) and in 2021, was less than 1 per cent of operated flights. An expected production capacity would need to reach 449 billion liters through incentives and long-term policies that would encourage SAF use in order to achieve the industry's long-term aspirational goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Shrabona Ghosh


A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 
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