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These Are the Least Fuel-Efficient Airlines

A new study names Lufthansa, SAS and British Airways as the three least fuel-efficient transatlantic airlines.

Lufthansa (LH), SAS (SK) and British Airways (BA) were cited for being the three least-efficient airlines by burning between 44 percent and 51 percent more fuel per passenger on 2014 transatlantic flights, according to a new report released Tuesday by The International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT). Norwegian Air Shuttle was named the most fuel-efficient.

“It’s surprising to see such large differences in fuel efficiency among airlines on long-haul flights over the Atlantic. The airline you fly, and the aircraft they choose to operate, really matters if you’re concerned about the climate,” the ICCT’s program director for aviation and co-author of the report Dan Rutherford said in a press release. “The report reinforces the need for policies to reduce carbon emissions from international aviation, namely carbon pricing and aircraft efficiency standards.”

The report, “Transatlantic Airline Fuel Efficiency Ranking, 2014,” compared the fuel efficiency and carbon intensity of the top 20 airlines on transatlantic routes in 2014 between the United States and Canada, and Europe.

“Absent policy interventions, aviation emissions are on pace to triple by 2050—a period in which many developed countries hope to reduce their emissions by up to 80 percent,” the ICCT said in a press release.

(Courtesy International Council on Clean Transportation)

The ICCT said the study is the first analysis to combine publicly available and commercial operations data with sophisticated aircraft fuel burn-modeling to chart fuel efficiency of carriers on a passenger kilometer basis. The report found that a nonstop, round-trip transatlantic flight averaged one ton of CO2 emissions per passenger, which is equivalent to an annual, 35-kilometer daily commute in a Toyota Prius.

“The 51 percent gap between the efficiency of industry leaders such as Norwegian Air Shuttle and laggards like British Airways highlights that there are significant differences in the environmental performance of carriers flying over the North Atlantic,” said the report. “Overall, airlines with more fuel-efficient aircraft, less premium seating and higher passenger and freight load factors provide less carbon-intensive travel options for passengers.”

The report noted that aircraft CO2 standards show more efficient fuel operations, as airlines that operate newer aircraft are significantly more fuel-efficient.

“Seating configuration and aircraft fuel burn (i.e., fuel economy of the aircraft operated) are the two most important factors influencing airline fuel efficiency; together they explain about 80 percent of the variation in fuel efficiency among the airlines studied,” the ICCT said in a press release.

The study found that first class and business seats accounted for only 14 percent of available seat kilometers flown on transatlantic routes but approximately one-third of total carbon emissions. For BA and SK, premium seating accounted for nearly 50 percent of total passenger-travel emissions.

Meanwhile, passenger load factor, or the percentage of seats filled, and freight carriage are lesser drivers drivers of fuel efficiency.

Norwegian Air Shuttle earned the distinction of the most fuel-efficient airline on transatlantic routes by using an average 40 passenger kilometers per liter (pax-km/L) of fuel with its predominately Boeing 787-8 fleet.

The 51 percent gap between the most and least fuel-efficient airlines on 2014 transatlantic operations is twice the performance gap of 25 percent between the best and worst U.S. airlines on 2014 domestic operations.

“If global aviation were a country, it would rank 21st in terms of GDP, but 7th in terms of CO2 emissions, just behind Germany and well ahead of South Korea,” the ICCT said. “Globally, aircraft emitted about 700 million metric tons of CO2 in 2013.”

In December, Paris’s Le Bourget Airport will host delegates to the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 21) where they are scheduled to discuss incorporating greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation into a global climate protection framework.

“The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has committed to develop a global framework—an aircraft CO2 (efficiency) standard and a framework for market-based measures (MBMs)—for controlling CO2 emissions from aviation by 2016,” the ICCT said. “But the process to develop an MBM has been hampered by disagreements over how to equitably distribute reduction targets by country or carrier.”

The ICCT is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators. The ICCT is funded through foundations, including ClimateWorks Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

[Photo: Getty/International Council on Clean Transportation]

Comments are Closed.
Heenan73 November 25, 2015

How very strange that Emirates - with its A380s - doesn't appear on the list. An error, I'm sure.

UncleDude November 19, 2015

Seems they have failed to include US Presidential Aircraft : Air Force One...That could be way the Top of the List.

Jim57 November 18, 2015

Of course Norwegian is going to appear to be much more fuel efficient than BA, Lufthansa or SAS. They don't carry any first class or business class passengers, and so have more people on the same planes. A couple of simple facts. Number of seats on a Norwegian787-8: 291. Number of seats on a BA 787-8: 214. There's your almost 50% difference straightaway! Talk about a non-story! Whoever wrote this, please do a bit of homework before just parrotting what you receive!

Worcester November 18, 2015

You have to bare in mind though where airlines are in their lifetime of their aircraft. Norwegian has nearly all new aircraft as it is a relatively new airline. BA has lots of fuel efficient aircraft on order but it still uses older aircraft will the replacements come through.

Daner November 18, 2015

Keep in mind that this information is from 2014, when Norwegian had some not-insignificant difficulties with the reliability of their 787 fleet, which led to numerous accounts of stranded passengers on both sides of the Atlantic. Most of the other airlines in this survey have agreements which enable them to re-route stranded passengers, but Norwegian more typically just delays them until the next available seat on a Norwegian flight. This can cause delays of several days, but it has a positive effect upon load factor, which helps with the stats used to create this report. It should also be pointed out that the fleet mix on some of the other carriers has changed since the data for this report was collected. KLM is currently taking delivery of their first 787, Finnair is the European launch customer for the new A350-XWB, LH is flying more routes with the 747-8, and several have added routes with the A380.