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Air operations, Expert view

Greener on the other side — aviation sustainability trends

January 25, 2021

Let’s look back to see how the sustainability story developed over the year. And, then we will look at the shape of things to come.

In our end-of-year Cirium Airline Insights Review 2020 – Including The On-Time Performance Review 2020, Andrew Doyle, Senior Director, Market Development at Cirium, writes:

Through the recovery phase airlines will most likely operate smaller fleets of younger, fuel-efficient aircraft—albeit at higher daily utilization rates—compared with the peak of 2019. …while the industry accounts for a small proportion of overall global emissions (approximately 2% annually, prior to the coronavirus crisis), it will eventually once again become one of the fastest growing.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, sustainability programs were gaining momentum in the aviation industry. Then throughout the pandemic, industry stakeholders have responded to the crisis, with bold strategies aligned with sustainability and profitability.

Let’s look back to see how the sustainability story developed over the year. And, then we will look at the shape of things to come in the ending summary by Doyle.

January 2020

JetBlue Airways announces it will be the first US airline to offset all domestic flight emissions, effective July 2020. (reported on Cirium Dashboard

February 2020

Delta Air Lines pledges to spend $1 billion on carbon reduction and clean energy over the coming decade in quest to become first carbon neutral airline. (reported on Cirium Dashboard

April 2020

French Government urges Air France to slash domestic flights and work towards becoming the world’s “most environmentally friendly” airline to satisfy conditions of state bailout. (reported on Cirium Dashboard

May 2020

In the below video, Michael Graham, Valuations manager, Cirium, said:

“IATA is now predicting that passenger numbers may not recover to pre COVID-19 levels until 2023. Faced with this reality airlines are now grappling with the question of how to rationalize their fleets. On the one hand a dramatic fall in fuel prices has made older aircraft cheaper to operate potentially extending their life. Conversely the current crisis could also represents an opportunity to make fleets greener by phasing out less efficient aircraft types…”


In this post, Coronavirus: View from the industry on how airlines will return their aircraft to service, we recap a panel of industry experts who weighed in on the technical and operational challenges airlines face when getting their fleets back in the air.

Cirium’s Rob Morris, Global Head of Consultancy at Ascend by Cirium notes:

“Aircraft that are close to a major check or an engine shop visit are clearly going to be less attractive to bring out of store because the cost of returning them to service will be significant.”

July 2020

US government proposes regulating carbon-dioxide emissions from aviation by adopting ICAO’s aircraft CO2 standard, but environmental campaigners argue requirements are “too weak.” (reported on Cirium Dashboard

August 2020

In this Thought Cloud post: 5 keys for navigating the flight plan to recovery, we noted how newer, next generation aircraft were returning to service:

But those aircraft that remain parked have not been static. Airlines have been moving a number of their jets into long-term storage locations, a sign that carriers are deciding which aircraft have a future in their fleets and those which don’t.

On the whole, new generation and fuel-efficient aircraft types are being brought back into service more quickly than older jets. This can be seen in both the single-aisle and widebody markets, as carriers favor aircraft with longer life cycles and proven sustainability credentials.

October 2020

Wright Electric—the US firm that is working with easyJet to develop a 186-seat electric aircraft—is awarded funding by the US Department of Energy to build an electric propulsion system capable of powering a narrowbody airliner. (reported on Cirium Dashboard

November 2020

In a Thought Cloud post, The world will spend US $2.8 trillion on new aircraft by 2039 despite the current COVID-19 crisis, We noted:

“Engine flying hours will also fall by 45% in 2020 to 94 million, compared to 170 million in 2019. However, the use of more efficient aircraft this year means that total CO2 emissions  are likely to be down by 50%. Over the next 20 years, total engine flying hours will increase to 310 million.”

December 2020

At the end of the year, Andrew Doyle reviews fleet developments and looks at trends for the future, in our Cirium Airline Insights Review 2020.

Doyle writes,

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) member states are pressing ahead with implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

By fusing many different data sources…flight status and tracking and airline schedules, Cirium is working to provide a picture of emissions performance by operator, aircraft type or geographical region, as well as on a historical or forward looking per-seat basis.

We see momentum growing and a wide array of approaches being applied to accelerate sustainability goals. A clear view of the data across applications will help to meet these challenges.

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