The fact remains that flights are bad news for the environment. But Singapore Airlines is innovating rapidly to ensure cleaner skies.
The impact of the air transport industry on the environment is significant. Airline executives know pressure is mounting as data show carriers accounting for roughly 2.4 percent of all global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. We spoke to Lee Wen Fen, senior vice president, corporate planning, of Singapore Airlines, to learn how the carrier is making aviation more environmentally sustainable – from reducing the use of plastic to flying on biofuels.
SkiftX: Every carrier today is ramping up their efforts to be more sustainable. What is Singapore Airlines doing to show their commitment to sustainability?
Lee Wen Fen: At Singapore Airlines, we are not standing still. We are aware of our responsibilities and we understand the concerns over climate change. The industry has set ambitious targets to significantly cut emissions in the coming decades, and we fully support them.
Singapore Airlines is participating in the pilot phase of Corsia, a global carbon offsetting scheme adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This will require airlines to buy carbon offsets to compensate for their growth in carbon dioxide emissions. The carrier has significantly reduced its carbon footprint over the years by investing in new-generation aircraft models such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, which are far more fuel-efficient than the aircraft that they are replacing.
We are also working to reduce waste and the amount of single-use plastics that are being consumed on board aircraft.
SkiftX: Tell us more about the four-pillar strategy Singapore Airlines has adopted to reduce their carbon footprint.
Lee: We support International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) climate goals and have adopted a four-pillar strategy to reduce our carbon footprint: improved technology, operational measures, improved infrastructure, and global market-based measures.
Today, the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions is by investing in and operating a modern fuel-efficient fleet. As of January 2020, the average age of the SIA Group fleet is six years and two months. This includes 45 Airbus A350-900s, with 22 more to be delivered, as well as 15 Boeing 787-10s with 29 more to be delivered.
The A350-900, for example, is around 29 percent more fuel-efficient than the older 777s that they are replacing on long-haul routes. The 787-10s, which are deployed on medium-haul services, are around 25 percent more fuel-efficient than the A330s that they are replacing.
Singapore Airlines has also embarked on a series of “green package” flights that have helped to save 58,801 pounds of carbon dioxide, by combining the use of biofuels, fuel-efficient aircraft, and optimized flight operations.
We regularly seek ways to improve fuel efficiency by optimizing flight routings, engaging in effective aircraft weight management, and using data analytics to improve fuel consumption.
SkiftX: The “green package” flights which were launched in 2017 created a positive buzz among environmentally conscious consumers. Tell us more about these flights and their performance.
Lee: In line with our commitment to reduce international aviation emissions, Singapore Airlines partnered the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and operated a series of 12 green package flights over a three-month period in May 2017 on its non-stop San Francisco-Singapore route.
These flights featured SIA’s latest-generation Airbus A350-900 together with Sustainable Aviation Fuels, and optimized air traffic management best practices. This initiative, which combined the use of biofuel, optimized flight operations, and the latest fuel-efficient aircraft to reduce fuel burn and carbon emissions, helped to raise awareness of sustainable biofuels for aviation. It also provided the industry with valuable insights into the economics, logistical requirements, and performance of biofuels.
All 12 “green package” flights were powered by a combination of Hydro-processed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), a sustainable biofuel produced from used cooking oils and conventional jet fuel with a potential reduction of carbon emissions by 80 percent as compared to traditional jet fuel.
More than 704,000 pounds of carbon emissions were saved from the world’s first 12 green package flights.
SkiftX: Some of your new green initiatives include cutting back on the use of in-flight items, reducing single-use plastic, changing the food menu, and even removing salt, pepper and sugar packets. What was the reason behind these moves and how have they helped in driving sustainability?
Lee: Managing waste is a key area we look at in our operations to be more sustainable. Some of our in-flight initiatives include the removal of plastic straws and swizzle sticks. We will see 820,000 plastic straws and 3.8 million plastic swizzle sticks eliminated per year on our flights.
And since 2017, all paper cups in our cockpits were replaced with reusable cups, saving about 1 million paper cups & plastic lids annually. We have also been leveraging digital technologies to reduce paper consumption, saving around 290 trees or 4,820 paper reams annually by going digital. We have replaced polybag packaging for all our children’s toys with recyclable paper packaging. Several of the Airline’s paper products, such as menu cards, tissue paper, and toilet rolls, are made with FSC-certified paper, which has been sourced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
In addition, we have been expanding on the airline’s “From Farm to Plane” concept that we introduced in 2017, which promotes environmental sustainability and supports local small-medium enterprises. We embarked on an exciting collaboration with AeroFarms, the world’s largest indoor vertical farm of its kind based in Newark, United States to provide a customized blend of fresh produce for SIA’s Newark to Singapore flights since October 2019.
SkiftX: What other new measures are there in the pipeline?
Lee: We continue to work on achieving our set targets, for example in the reduction of in-flight food waste by using artificial intelligence and data analytics to predict consumption patterns. We also aim to reduce electricity consumption by implementing building-energy conservation initiatives in our head office buildings. About 20 percent of our electricity in our head offices is powered by using solar panels, and 12 percent of our water consumption comes from rainwater, which we harvest and reuse to water plants and flush toilets.
SkiftX: Does sustainability drive up costs? How does Singapore Airlines balance between going green while attaining business profit objectives?
Lee: At Singapore Airlines, we believe that increasing productivity and boosting revenue can go hand-in-hand with being socially conscious, giving back to our local community, and reducing environmental impact. We have embarked on multiple initiatives over the years to reduce our carbon footprint. We work with our caterers and make use of customer surveys, data analytics, and staff feedback to reduce food waste after flights.
We also continue to invest in a modern fleet. By keeping our fleet young and modern, we comply with strict environmental standards. A younger fleet also means increased fuel efficiency and lower emissions, translating into lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to older aircraft.