Lufthansa launched the world’s first biofuel-powered airplane in 2011. The German airline group has since focused on reducing its carbon footprint and lessening its noise and air pollution volumes. The Group, which now includes Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings, is on track for a greener future, says Helmut Tolksdorf, Lufthansa’s spokesperson for sustainability and renewable energy.
Helmut, what does sustainability means for a global company like Lufthansa?
Sustainable and responsible business practice is an integral part of the Lufthansa Group’s corporate strategy. It was the first aviation group worldwide to join the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest initiative for responsible and sustainable corporate governance, back in 2002.
The participating companies align their business activities and strategies with ten globally recognised principles from the areas human rights, labour standards, environmental protection and anti-corruption measures.
Aviation is often named as one of the world’s biggest polluters. How does Lufthansa plan to mitigate this?
The CO2 emissions of civil aviation currently account for about 2.7 per cent of all CO2 emissions caused by human activities, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA 2017, 2015 values).
Given that increasing demand for mobility is foreseeable, air transport and its related emissions will continue to increase in the future. The aviation industry has reacted to this development and in 2009 adopted the following goals with worldwide validity:
- Fuel efficiency is to be increased by 1.5 per cent per year by 2020
- From 2020, growth in civil aviation is to be realised in CO2-neutral ways (carbon neutral growth)
- By 2050, the net-CO2 emissions of civil aviation are to decline by 50 per cent, compared with 2005
Growth-related CO2 emissions in international civil aviation are to be compensated from 2020 by CO2 savings achieved by climate protection projects.
Lufthansa launched the world’s first biofuel flight. What lessons did you learn from this project?
We have participated for a number of years in researching and testing alternative fuels in flight operations. In 2011, Lufthansa became the first airline worldwide to test alternative fuel in scheduled flight operations for six months on the Frankfurt-Hamburg route with an Airbus A321 in the context of the project “BurnFAIR – Potentials of alternative fuels in operational conditions”.
The long-term testing was accompanied by detailed emission measurements and research into production processes and biomass availability. During the test trial, the behaviour of the engine was continuously checked.
The measurements demonstrated that biofuel does not generate more pollutant emissions than conventional jet fuel. After completion of the flights, the Airbus was subjected to a final engine examination. The detailed examination of both tanks for deposits and changes in the seals was positive. No signs of abnormal behaviour were observed in connection with biofuel. As expected, the test showed that biofuel could be used without any problems in flight operations.
What is your vision for a sustainable future for your airline?
Lufthansa stands for sustainable mobility and is strongly committed to limiting the environmental impact of flight operations. To this end, the executive board adopted a strategic environmental programme back in 2008. The central fields of action of the 15-point programme are the sustainable reduction of CO2 emissions, active noise abatement, continuous fleet modernisation and the gradual implementation of certified environmental management systems.
In addition to continuously investing in particularly fuel efficient and quiet aircraft, the Lufthansa Group is also continuously working to increase the environmental efficiency of its existing fleet.
Group-wide, the company implemented a total of 34 projects aimed at fuel conservation in 2017, which lowered CO2 emissions by about 64,400 tonnes over the long-term. The quantity of kerosene conserved amounted to 25.5 million litres – this corresponds to the fuel consumption of about 250 return flights between Munich and New York with an Airbus A350-900.
Lufthansa implemented a total of 34 projects aimed at fuel conservation in 2017. The quantity of kerosene conserved amounted to 25.5 million litres – this corresponds to the fuel consumption of about 250 return flights between Munich and New York with an Airbus A350-900.
Furthermore, the Lufthansa Group offers its passengers the option of voluntary CO2 offsetting. Passengers can offset the unavoidable emissions caused by their flight by making a donation. The funds flow into certified climate protection projects. The Lufthansa Group Airlines will promote the attractiveness of this programme in the near future.
Can you imagine a day when airplanes are totally powered by renewable energy?
With the current state of technology, the operation of large aircraft with a pure e-propulsion system is not a realistic vision for the foreseeable future.
What effect do taxes and other surcharges have? Are they ecologically worthwhile or mere tokenism?
The Lufthansa Group supports market-based-measures for the aviation industry if they have been defined globally in order to avoid distortion of competition.
Therefore, we support ICAO’s global approach for climate protection (CORSIA) and comply with the reduction targets set by IATA. Given the international character of the aviation industry, only a global approach to climate protection prevents international conflicts and competitive distortion. National or regional CO2 measures need to be avoided. And airlines should not be obliged to compensate their CO2 emissions more than once.