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How Airlines are Reducing Carbon Emissions in Aviation

How Airlines are Reducing Carbon Emissions in Aviation #Airlines #Emissions #Carbon

Air travel or Airlines has long been the epitome of human ingenuity, shrinking our world into a global village. But this convenience comes with an environmental invoice, one that’s growing with every takeoff and landing.

This ensuing piece lifts the veil on the carbon emissions linked to airlines and explores the proactive steps the industry is taking to balance the scales.


Now, how exactly do airlines currently contribute to CO2 emissions?

How Are Airlines Currently Contributing to Carbon Emissions?

The aviation industry is a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. From fuel consumption to ground operations, airlines have multiple avenues through which they contribute to environmental degradation.


A handful of the most prevalent are listed below.

Aircraft Fuel Burn

The aviation sector consumes an immense quantity of fossil fuels. The burning of jet fuel is the primary source of carbon emissions for airlines. When an aircraft is in flight, its engines combust fuel to produce the necessary thrust. This process releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


The longer the flight, the more fuel is burned, escalating the carbon footprint.

  • Primary Source: Jet fuel combustion is the main contributor to airline carbon emissions.
  • CO2 Emissions: Burning one gallon of jet fuel produces about 21 pounds of CO2.
  • Flight Duration: Longer flights result in higher fuel consumption and emissions.

Aircraft Engine Exhaust

Apart from CO2, aircraft engines emit other harmful substances. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, and water vapor are among the pollutants released. These substances have a more potent warming effect than CO2 alone.

NOx emissions, for instance, contribute to the formation of ozone at high altitudes, exacerbating global warming.

  • NOx Emissions: Nitrogen oxides have a greater warming effect than CO2.
  • Particulate Matter: Fine particles can affect air quality and human health.
  • Water Vapor: Contributes to cloud formation, which can trap heat.

High-Altitude Impact

Aircraft operate at high altitudes, where the environmental impact of emissions is more severe. At these heights, pollutants have a longer lifespan and disperse over a wider area.

The emissions contribute to phenomena like contrail formation, which can further trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Longer Lifespan: Pollutants last longer in the upper atmosphere.
  • Wider Dispersion: Emissions spread over a larger geographical area.
  • Contrail Formation: Vapor trails from aircraft can trap heat.

Frequent Short Flights

Short-haul flights are more energy-intensive per mile than long-haul flights. The reason is that takeoff and landing consume a disproportionate amount of fuel.

With the rise in low-cost carriers and increased flight frequency, the number of short flights has surged, amplifying their environmental impact.

  • High Fuel Use: Takeoff and landing are the most fuel-intensive phases.
  • Low-Cost Carriers: Increased frequency of short flights due to budget airlines.
  • Per Mile Impact: Short flights have higher emissions per mile traveled.

Cargo Operations

Cargo flights are a less-discussed but significant contributor to airline carbon emissions. These flights often carry heavy loads, requiring more fuel and resulting in higher emissions.

Additionally, the urgency to deliver goods quickly leads to suboptimal flight paths and speeds, further increasing the carbon footprint. The rise of e-commerce has led to an increase in air cargo operations, exacerbating the issue.

  • Heavy Loads: Cargo flights carry substantial weight, requiring more fuel.
  • Urgent Deliveries: Quick delivery demands can lead to inefficient flight paths.
  • E-commerce Impact: The rise in online shopping has increased the frequency of cargo flights.

Ground Operations

Ground operations at airports also contribute to carbon emissions. Activities such as taxiing, the use of auxiliary power units (APUs) for electricity and climate control when the aircraft is on the ground, and the operation of ground support equipment like tugs and belt loaders all add to the carbon footprint.

These activities are essential for flight safety and passenger comfort but come at an environmental cost.

  • Taxiing: Aircraft moving on the ground consume fuel.
  • APUs: Auxiliary power units provide electricity but emit CO2.
  • Ground Support Equipment: Tugs, belt loaders, and other machinery also contribute to emissions.

Energy-Intensive Maintenance

Aircraft maintenance is a necessary but energy-intensive activity. Tasks such as engine testing, paint stripping, and the use of high-energy equipment for repairs all contribute to carbon emissions.

Many maintenance activities also require the use of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. While these processes are crucial for safety, they are not without environmental impact.

In addition, not only is aircraft maintenance energy-heavy, but it is also continuous since airplanes are given almost no rest.

  • Engine Testing: Consumes fuel and emits CO2.
  • High-Energy Equipment: Tools like air compressors contribute to energy use.
  • Chemical Use: Harmful chemicals are often used in maintenance.

Inefficient Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control systems are not always optimized for fuel efficiency. Inefficient routing, holding patterns, and suboptimal flight levels can lead to increased fuel consumption.

Modernization of air traffic control systems to allow for more direct routes and optimal cruising altitudes could significantly reduce emissions.

  • Inefficient Routing: Current systems may not provide the most fuel-efficient paths.
  • Holding Patterns: Waiting for landing clearance consumes extra fuel.
  • Suboptimal Flight Levels: Planes may not always fly at the most fuel-efficient altitudes.

What Steps Are Airlines Taking to Reduce Carbon Emissions?

Acknowledging their carbon footprint, airlines are not sitting idle. They’re adopting a range of strategies—from technological advancements to passenger engagement—to mitigate their environmental impact.

Here’s how they’re making a difference:


Biofuels Replace Traditional Jet Fuel for Immediate Emission Reduction

Biofuels are emerging as a viable alternative to traditional jet fuel. Derived from renewable sources like algae or waste oils, biofuels can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%. Several airlines have started blending biofuels with conventional jet fuel to achieve immediate emission reductions.

While biofuels offer a promising alternative, the sustainable tracking of jet fuel demand remains crucial for airlines to gauge their progress and make informed decisions.

  • Renewable Sources: Biofuels are derived from algae, waste oils, and other renewable materials.
  • Emission Reduction: Can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%.
  • Blending: Mixed with traditional jet fuel for immediate impact.
  • Cost Challenge: Currently more expensive than conventional fuel.

Newer Planes with Higher Fuel Efficiency are Taking Over the Skies

Aircraft manufacturers are focusing on designing planes with higher fuel efficiency. Newer models are equipped with advanced aerodynamics, lighter materials, and more efficient engines.

Airlines are gradually phasing out older models in favor of these next-generation aircraft to meet sustainability goals.

  • Advanced Aerodynamics: Improved design for better fuel efficiency.
  • Lighter Materials: Use of composite materials to reduce weight.
  • Efficient Engines: New engine technologies for lower fuel consumption.
  • Phase-Out: Older, less efficient models are being retired.

Retrofitted Engines Optimize Fuel Combustion

Retrofitting existing aircraft engines is another strategy for reducing emissions. Modifications like installing new combustor technology or optimizing airflow can improve fuel combustion efficiency.

Even though this may not be as impactful as new aircraft, retrofitting is a quicker and more cost-effective way to improve existing fleets.

  • Combustor Technology: New combustors for better fuel-air mixing.
  • Optimized Airflow: Improved airflow patterns for efficient combustion.
  • Quick Impact: Faster and cheaper than acquiring new aircraft.

Real-Time Data Selects the Most Fuel-Efficient Routes

Advanced data analytics are helping airlines choose the most fuel-efficient routes in real-time. Factors like wind speed, air traffic, and weather conditions are considered to optimize flight paths.

It also minimizes the time spent in holding patterns, further reducing emissions.

  • Data Analytics: Real-time data for route optimization.
  • Dynamic Factors: Wind speed, air traffic, and weather are considered.
  • Reduced Holding Time: Minimizes time spent waiting for landing clearance.

Passengers Offset Carbon Footprints at Booking

Airlines are increasingly offering carbon offset programs at the point of booking. These programs allow passengers to invest in environmental projects that aim to offset the emissions generated by their flights. The funds typically go towards reforestation, renewable energy projects, or community-based environmental initiatives.

While this doesn’t reduce emissions directly, it’s a step towards mitigating the environmental impact of air travel.

  • Point of Booking: Carbon offset options are offered when purchasing tickets.
  • Environmental Projects: Funds are directed to reforestation or renewable energy.
  • Community Initiatives: Some programs support local environmental efforts.
  • Mitigation: Aims to balance out the carbon emissions from flights.

Strict Emission Standards Enforce Baseline Commitment

Regulatory bodies are setting stricter emission standards that airlines must adhere to. These standards set a baseline level of emissions per mile traveled and are designed to gradually decrease over time.

Airlines that fail to meet these standards face penalties, providing a strong incentive for compliance. These regulations push the industry towards adopting more sustainable practices and technologies.

  • Baseline Levels: Standards set a maximum level of emissions per mile.
  • Time-Frame: Emission levels are required to decrease over a set period.
  • Penalties: Financial and operational penalties for non-compliance.
  • Incentive for Change: Regulations drive the adoption of sustainable practices.

R&D Funds Target the Development of Electric Aircraft

Research and development (R&D) in electric aircraft is gaining momentum. Airlines and manufacturers are investing heavily in this technology, aiming to produce fully electric or hybrid planes.

Although still in the experimental stage, these aircraft promise zero emissions and significantly lower operating costs. The focus is on short-haul flights initially, with the potential for expansion as the technology matures.

  • Electric and Hybrid: Research focuses on both fully electric and hybrid models.
  • Zero Emissions: Electric aircraft promise no carbon emissions.
  • Lower Costs: Reduced operating costs compared to traditional aircraft.
  • Short-Haul Focus: Initial applications are likely to be for shorter routes.


The runway to sustainable aviation is neither short nor devoid of turbulence. Yet, the industry is showing a commitment to change, fueled by innovation and a sense of responsibility. From passengers opting for carbon offsets to airlines investing in electric aircraft, every action counts.

The voyage toward greener skies is underway, and while the destination is not yet in sight, the flight plan is becoming clearer.

After all, it’s no longer simply about getting to our destinations; it’s about ensuring there’s a habitable destination left for future generations.


About Author


This article is being published by Edrian Blasquino. For his efforts in writing this article, which provides thoughtful research on the topic, you can send him an email of gratitude.

Name : Edrian Blasquino / Email: [email protected]


He is an aviation journalist and the founder of Jetline Marvel. Dawal gained a comprehensive understanding of the commercial aviation industry.  He has worked in a range of roles for more than 9 years in the aviation and aerospace industry. He has written more than 1700 articles in the aerospace industry. When he was 19 years old, he received a national award for his general innovations and holds the patent. He completed two postgraduate degrees simultaneously, one in Aerospace and the other in Management. Additionally, he authored nearly six textbooks on aviation and aerospace tailored for students in various educational institutions. jetlinem4(at)


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