Over 7.4 billion parcels are flown around the world each year. As air cargo carriers continue to meet growing consumer demands for global e-commerce, we are on the cusp of a digitally connected future where overseas shipping has become a vital component of everyday life.
In a post-pandemic landscape, the air cargo industry strives to prosper. As logistics company revenue booms in the wake of Covid-19, air freight giants such as FedEx and DHL are continuing to lead new sustainable ventures that will address post-Covid shipping demands.
Currently, the aviation industry is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions. Named as the fastest source of greenhouse gas, that is more likely to penetrate the atmosphere than ground-based emissions, it’s no surprise that environmentalists are concerned about the industry’s global consequences.
As the aviation industry now strives to go green before 2030, the question is, can we really achieve a net-zero as both cargo and commercial demands soar? Let’s have a closer look into the journey towards sustainable aviation and meet the air cargo carriers leading the way towards a greener future.
Why Is The Aviation Industry Unsustainable?
The aviation industry is built on fossil fuel combustion. Using the same methods as grounded vehicles such as cars and lorries, fossil fuels are burnt in order to facilitate both cargo and commercial based air travel. As aircraft engines produce gasses such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and a multitude of particulates in transit, they continue to contaminate the earth’s atmospheric chemistry.
Producing a predicted 10 times more CO2 than ship-based freight, the aviation industry contributes to climate change on a daily basis. Due to releasing greenhouse gasses at a much higher altitude, experts suggest that aircraft based emissions are much more likely to pose as a threat to the world’s atmospheric environment.
To make a comparison, one return flight from San Francisco to London generates an average of 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, which is double the amount of emissions produced by a single-family car in a year.
What’s more, is that aviation-based emissions are rising rapidly in the wake of new air-freight demands and a post-covid tourism boom. In fact, aircraft emissions increased by 32% between 2013 and 2018 alone. Experts suggest that this number is now set to double in a post-covid landscape unless action is taken within the industry.
(Image Source: Our World In Data)
In addition to CO2 emissions, there are also a number of other substances that contribute to the onset of climate change during aircraft travel.
“Other substances, including mostly water in the form of contrails, as well as soot and also nitrous oxides, all have a capability of trapping additional heat at flight altitude,” states Stefan Gössling, a Sustainable Tourism professor at Linnaeus and Lund universities.
As the aviation industry grows, so does the concern from a number of leading environmentalists. While Covid-19 grounded many commercial flights during the 2020 lockdown period, the air cargo industry continued to prosper to meet fast and efficient e-commerce demands.
Stepping into a post-covid landscape, both world leaders and industry experts are beginning to come together to draft a more sustainable future for air travel. It’s clear that both cargo and commercial demands are only increasing, so let’s take a closer look at what is being done to address the climate concerns.
The Impact Of COP26
The annual Conference Of The Parties (COP26) took place in November 2021 in an effort to bring together world leaders, climate activists and industry experts, to discuss the future of climate change across the world.
With the future of aviation’s contribution to global emissions leading a large number of debates, key players within the global industry outlined how they were planning to meet climate goals in the wake of the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement which outlines a global commitment to reach a worldwide net-zero by 2050, has pressured airlines, airports and air cargo carriers to address their unsustainable practices as they strive to reduce aviation-based emissions. The commitments from the industry seek to improve sustainability using a combination of infrastructure improvements, carbon offsetting, technological innovation and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Speaking on behalf of the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition that was launched during COP26’s Transport Day, the UK’s leading Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, stated that 2050’s net-zero commitment was doable if world leaders continue to unite.
“From our roads to the skies, the transition to zero-emission transport has reached a tipping point. We know that transport plays a key role in saving the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees C, which is why this is the COP that will kick start our ambition for zero-emission aviation and why I’m proud to be uniting world leaders to tackle climate change-creating new opportunities for clean growth, green jobs, and improved air quality right across the globe.”
The Future Of Sustainable Aviation
As we embark on a future of sustainable aviation post-COP26, new forms of eco-friendly fuelling and carbon offsetting schemes continue to lead the way. With both air-cargo carriers and commercial aircrafts striving to reduce CO2 emissions as aviation demands increase, here are some of the initiatives that are contributing towards the future of green travel.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can reduce up to 80% of aviation-based carbon emissions when utilised as a fossil fuel alternative.
Since 2016, 370,000 aircrafts have taken to the sky powered by SAF. As the sustainable initiative gains more support from aviation giants, an estimated 100 million litres of this eco-friendly fuel alternative was manufactured in 2021 alone.
It’s no secret that the variation industry is dependent on large scale fuelling in order to carry both people and parcels across the globe. With a predicted 8 billion aircraft passengers by 2050, SAF is reducing the environmental impacts of commercial flying.
Produced from a collection of sustainable feedstocks such as cooking oil, palm free waste oils and solid waste such as food scraps and textiles, SAF presents with a similar chemical formulation as traditional jet fuel.
(Image Source: BP)
SAF is currently playing an important role in meeting COP26’s carbon reduction targets and is expected to revolutionise the aviation industry in the next decade. Currently, 45 airlines have adopted sustainable fuelling and more than 14 billion litres worth of SAF are currently being discussed in purchase agreements.
Carbon offsetting may not actively reduce aircraft based carbon emissions, however, it can significantly reduce their impact. Carbon offsetting schemes enable the aviation industry to compensate for its large carbon footprint by investing in CO2 reduction projects across the globe while also encouraging clients to invest in nature.
As explained by the Aviation Beyond Benefits Organisation, “Offsetting has a tangible impact on reducing CO2 emissions. It is more effective than charging an environmental tax on flights, as such a tax only requires companies and passengers to pay for their emissions, without any guarantees that the payment will lead to any net reduction in emissions.”
If adopted by the entire aviation industry, carbon offsetting programmes alone could transform air travel into a completely net-zero industry. Currently, 40 international airlines offer carbon offsetting schemes to their passengers, but uptake is still relatively low.
In response, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation also known as CORSIA now aims to address the growth in CO2 emissions by encouraging airlines, airports and air cargo carriers to automatically offset flights. In fact, the BRA Airline company in Sweden is leading the way towards a greener future, currently offsetting 100% of all commercial journey’s, additionally launching a green class ticket scheme that has a SAF fueled journey included.
Optimal Aircraft Design
In the journey to creating a more sustainable future of aviation, an aircraft’s design is also a significant contributor to eco-friendly success. Improving the design, weight and fuelling of an aircraft carrier can reduce both industry costs and CO2 emissions.
Low weighted air crafts that have optimised flight paths produce less CO2 emissions as they take less fuelling and complete journey’s in less time. Improving aerodynamic efficiency is key here, and can actually reduce 6% of CO2 emissions from design alone.
Here are some of the newest innovations that are optimising sustainable aviation efficiency:
- Navigation Optimisation: Improving navigation systems can reduce flight time and improve pathway planning during poor weather conditions, saving aircrafts over 4 tons of CO2 per flight.
- Winglets: These wing based devices can enhance aerodynamic efficiency, improving aircraft speed and precision and cutting time in the air.
- 3D Printing: New aircraft based materials can be 3D printed using lighter, ethically sourced materials that reduce air carrier weight and improve emission efficiency.
How Have Air Cargo Carriers Responded?
Covid-19 may have boosted profits for both air cargo carriers and the logistics industry, however, this pressure to meet consumer demand continues to have an impact on the environment.
In response, freight carriers are embracing sustainability in order to further optimise their cargo-based operations. In fact, 60% of air cargo giants are already on board with a green future, and currently have sustainability programmes in place to reduce carbon emissions during freight transportation.
The popular air cargo carriers, Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker are leading the way after partnering to carry out the globe’s first carbon-neutral flight, using 100% sustainable fuel alternatives.
CEO of Lufthansa Cargo, Peter Gerber believes that the carbon-neutral Boeing 777F flight helped set the tone for a future of sustainable air freight. “With this flight, we are committed to the increased research and use of SAF so that sufficient quantities of the alternative fuel will be available in the future,” He claimed in a new statement.
“In addition to investments in a modern freighter fleet, our commitment to this CO2-neutral flight also contributes to the United Nations’ Climate Action sustainability goal. Because Lufthansa Cargo takes its corporate responsibility very seriously and is actively taking measures to meet this responsibility and relieve the environment.”
Looking to the future, air cargo carriers across the world are also doing their bit to educate as well as practice sustainability. Some popular air freight companies have launched eBooking portals that aim to educate consumers about the impacts of CO2 emissions.
5 Air Cargo Carriers That Are Going Green Before 2050
As air cargo carriers strive to go green before 2050 in line with COP26’s net-zero agreement, here are some of the biggest and brightest air cargo companies that aim to lead the way towards an eco-friendly future.
As one of the globe’s leading logistics companies, there are not many people who haven’t heard of FedEx. Addressing the current e-commerce pressures, the air cargo carrier is one of the few freight giants that are striving to reduce their carbon footprint.
Speaking on behalf of the company in 2021, CEO, Frederick Smith, revealed that the cargo company aimed to go carbon neutral by 2040, stating that they are taking the effects of climate change “very seriously”.
“We have a responsibility to take bold action in addressing climate challenges,” He revealed in his statement. “This goal builds on our longstanding commitment to sustainability throughout our operations, while at the same time investing in long-term, transformational solutions for FedEx and our entire industry.”
After being ranked second in the Air Transport World’s Eco-Airline of the Year Awards 2012, the company have since invested over $100 million into carbon offsetting projects in partnership with the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture that aims to irradicate the earth’s carbon surplus.
In addition, FedEx is also making some major changes to their delivery vehicles. Not only are they prioritising their on-ground transportation by introducing all-electric trucks to the roads, but their Aircraft Modernization scheme that aims to reduce fuel consumption has mitigated over 13.5 million tons of CO2 emissions.
As a major cargo giant in the industry, FedEx still has a way to go, however, its earth smart innovations should see it reach net-zero a decade before 2050.
Lufthansa Cargo is another air cargo carrier that aims to go green before 2050. After being named as the top contender for DHL’s new GoGreen Carrier Programme which ranks cargo companies based on their Carbon Efficiency, Engagement, Transparency and Cooperation, Lufthansa cargo managed to reduce its overall emissions by 25% before 2020.
“Sustainability and environmental management are key criteria for us in our cooperation with logistics partners. That is why DHL launched the GoGreen Carrier Rating programme”, stated the Head of Air Freight at DHL, Ingo-Alexander Rahn. “This is the first time that air cargo was included in the rating, with Lufthansa Cargo taking top spot straight off the bat, deservedly earning the right to join the ranks of our Preferred Carriers.”
Since 2020, Lufthansa Cargo has worked hard to produce effective biofuel and contribute to a number of carbon offsetting programmes in order to further reduce emissions.
(Image Source: Lufthansa Cargo)
As well as providing new forms of sustainable aviation fuel, Lufthansa also offset their biofuel production process in order to ensure CO2-neutral flying from the lab to the sky. These carbon offsets are currently being invested into reforestation projects offered by their partner, Compensaid sequester, which aims to neutralise CO2 in the atmosphere using natural oxygen sources such as trees.
The air cargo carrier DB Schenker plan to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% before 2030, introducing new sustainable initiatives post-covid to meet e-commerce demands.
Their focus lies around reducing transport miles by consolidation both on the ground and in the air. In shortening their supply chain, they are actively reducing CO2 emissions during production and transit. Also offering the option for consumers to compensate for their CO2 emissions along each stage of the delivery process, the German logistics company predict that they can cut air freight based emissions by 20% and ocean freight emissions by 50%.
DB Schenker is also working with a number of cargo and passenger based airlines as they continue to invest in new sustainable aircraft designs that minimise emissions when carrying cargo. Better still, the logistics firm is pioneering the future of drone transit to eliminate CO2 emissions altogether. This net-zero method is fully electric and can carry over 200kg up to 25 miles. This crewless aircraft is just the start of a technical future of cargo logistics that consider sustainability and reduce environmental impact.
As they strive to reach net-zero by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement, DB Schenker has also become an active member of the Sustainable Air Freight Alliance (SAFA), which strives to encourage freight forwarders to partner in an effort to track and mitigate CO2 emissions during freight transport.
Another air cargo carrier that has recently joined SAFA is Seko. The global logistics firm described it as an opportunity to “contribute to the positive decarbonization work being undertaken by the aviation industry”
Speaking on behalf of the logistics company, CEO James Gagne stated that it is up to cargo carriers to join global business leaders and work on sustainable initiatives together for a greener future.
“We have a responsibility to join other global business leaders in this initiative because our industry must do more to protect our planet for future generations,” He said in the wake of collaborating with SAFA. “Companies that lack a sustainability strategy will see their growth threatened because clients will take their business elsewhere if their partners do not take this seriously. This is a collaborative effort in which we can do more and act faster by working together. Joining SAFA will enable us to help our clients achieve their own sustainability goals too, which is how it should be.”
Alongside their partnership with SAFA, the American founded cargo carrier is also innovating and automating their carbon footprint reports using SEKO360 technology. Recording emissions-based data on behalf of Seko clients, the logistics firm aims to use the information to assess their sustainable journey and predict targets for an eco-friendly future.
Last but certainly not least, DHL is also investing in sustainable aircraft solutions in response to a new report from The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), predicting that aviation-based emissions will triple by 2050 without intervention.
“There is no way around sustainable logistics in the future. We are deciding today what kind of world we and our children will live in 30 years from now,” Claims Frank Appel, DHL’s CEO. “And our aspiration is to make a substantial contribution to ensure that this will be an even better world.”
(Image Source: DHL)
Striving to achieve net-zero by 2050, DHL has since purchased 33 million litres of SAF and plan to modernise their aircraft solutions. Replacing their unsustainable Boeing 747-400s with new lightweight Boeing 777 Freight jets, a combination of aerodynamic design and fuel-efficient technology has reduced DHL’s carbon emissions by 18% in response.
Speaking on behalf of the B777F’s success, Global Network Operations and Aviation head, Travis Cobb believes that introducing sustainable cargo carriers is the way forward. “The Boeing 777F fits well into our intercontinental network and perfectly complements our sustainability goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050”.
Is Net-Zero Transportation Achievable By 2050?
In the wake of the initial Paris Agreement in 2015 that outlined the goal to reach net-zero by 2050 and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, a number of industries have stepped forward to improve sustainable efforts.
As global travel demands increase in a post-pandemic landscape and e-commerce success continues to put pressure on global cargo carriers, emitting travel-based CO2 emissions is the way forward for the transport industry.
The key here is electrifying the process. As new technological innovations hit the transport scene, modern transportation options such as electric cars, SAF powered jets and even drone technology is the way forward for logistics firms who need to meet both demand and new sustainable goals.
2050 maybe thirty years down the line, but air cargo carriers need to act now if they want to see net-zero success.