Quest for a greener air cargo industry

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017

“Collectively, the industry today is 80% more fuel efficient per seat kilometer than the first jets in the 1960s. With the introduction of more modern and fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s, we believe the trend of sustained improvements in our fuel efficiency will continue in the years to come.”
– Prian Chan, Assistant Manager Sustainable Development at Cathay Pacific

Aviation sustainability focuses on reducing the entire industry’s environmental and social impact on the planet while pushing for economic growth. Strategies and investments to achieve this are crucial to guarantee the future of aviation, including the sustainability of the air cargo industry.

Over the next 20 years, the number of freighter planes will increase by 70 percent based on Boeing’s latest World Air Cargo Forecast projecting the aircraft in the industry to grow on average 4.2 percent from 2016.
Cargo sustainability, which refers to transporting goods with sensible regard to social, environmental and climate impacts, must, therefore, be seriously addressed.

Cargo sustainability is one of 10 key priorities for the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). Cargo experts at Cathay Pacific, ATS Shipping, Lufthansa and at IATA spoke with AIR CARGO UPDATE why sustainability holds the key to the future of the air cargo industry.

Driving force

In the last few years, Cathay Pacific’s focus has been on climate change and biodiversity issues.
Prian Chan, Assistant Manager Sustainable Development at Cathay, says: “On climate change, we completed our freighter fleet renewal which comprises of Boeing’s latest and fuel efficient Boeing 747-8Fs with 14 in our fleet. We phased out our Airbus A340s and Boeing 747-400s in the past year and began receiving our 48 Airbus A350s. We work with airports and air navigational service providers to optimize our operations around the world.
“Recognizing that we have an impact on the destinations to which we fly, we continue to develop and incorporate biodiversity elements into our sustainable development strategy. We work with industry associations, conservation organizations and academia in regularly reviewing our cargo carriage policy. Over the past few years, we have placed an embargo on shark’s fin, ivory and its related products and hunting trophies”.

Lufthansa is constantly working to reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environmental balance.
Bettina Jansen, Lufthansa Cargo Head of Environmental Management, notes, “By 2020, we aim to have a 25 percent reduction in specific CO2 emissions in comparison to 2005 values. We are continuing to put our environmental strategy into motion across all levels: a certified environmental management system in the air and on the ground, entering into dialogue with science, customers and suppliers, as well as open and honest internal and external communication.”

“Between 2005 and 2016, we have been able to reduce the specific CO2 emissions of our fleet from 549 to 460 grams per ton kilometer transported. This step has meant we have already achieved our 25% goal, at 16.2 percentage points.”

IATA’s Global Head of Cargo Glyn Hughes says the air cargo industry has a positive social and economic impact on many countries. It carries 6,849 vaccines every day, saving lives.

It transports $6 trillion in value of goods, representing 35 percent of global trade by value, but less than 1 percent by volume, supporting economies around the world. Over 68 million people today have jobs supported by the aviation industry.

“The future of air cargo can be guaranteed and our planet preserved for future generations only through working towards long-term industry sustainability,” said Hughes.

“In addition to working to reduce aviation’s impact on climate change, IATA also considers the social aspect and invests in future generations working in air cargo, through the FACE program which recognizes there is an urgent need to invest in people, promote gender diversity, and attract and develop young talent,” he added.
Air transport as a whole represents just 2 percent of global carbon emissions. However, IATA recognizes the need to address the global challenge of climate change and has adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport:
An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5 percent per year from 2009 to 2020
A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels
An important step towards this was achieved at the 39th session of the ICAO Assembly in 2016, when its member states adopted a global carbon-offsetting scheme for international aviation. ICAO’s Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is set to commence with a voluntary period (2021-2026) after which it will become mandatory.

Strategies and investments

Sustainability requires an investment from all participants in the cargo supply chain (shippers, freight forwarders, ground handlers and carriers).

Specifically in the case of the environment, IATA Member Airlines are committed to reducing their impact, through investment in technology, efficient fleets, better infrastructure and the development of a long-term innovation strategy.

According to IATA, the aviation industry’s strategy to reduce environmental impact has four pillars:
Improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels

More efficient aircraft operations

Infrastructure improvements, including modernized air traffic management systems
A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap.

Chan notes that in 2016, the airline achieved important sustainability milestones, which will allow them to accelerate their performance in the years ahead.

“We received our 14th and final Boeing 747-8F freighter and operated our first biofuel-powered flight, which was incidentally the world’s longest at the time. Sustainable development remains an important part of our brand and proposition to our customers,” he says.

Technological innovation

There are numerous examples of technological innovations contributing to the long-term sustainability of the industry. New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are being used to improve the efficiency of scheduling, tracking and tracing, across the supply chain.

Developments in composite materials have facilitated the production of lighter weight equipment such as Unit Load Devices (ULDs). Advances in aerospace technology have resulted in the production of more efficient fleets and engines that can run on biofuels.

Lufthansa Cargo is continuously working to reduce flight emissions. In doing so, they rely on the latest technologies to optimize their fleet on an ongoing basis – for example, the investment in the Boeing 777F.
“This is truly state-of-the-art technology and design. For example, the use of advanced materials, raked wingtips and powerful engines – all this makes the Triple Seven cleaner, quieter and more efficient. Optimal use in our route network and a high level of capacity utilization also significantly contribute to reducing emissions. In addition, the B777F we use is the quietest cargo aircraft in its class,” says Jansen.

ATS Shipping’s Global Sales Director Santanu Datta, says: “Air cargo and logistics businesses are also making substantial inroads into environmental sustainability. Many airlines are doing away with older, noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft in favor of renewed fleets of sleek, modern, fuel-efficient, quieter models, which has invested heavily in a low emissions fleet, has set itself ambitious goals in its Environmental Strategy.”

Green modes of transportation

Green modes of transportation refer to the incorporation of new technologies such as electric vehicles and other advanced usage of technology. It also takes into account planes that have a lower impact on the environment, such as reduced noise pollution, increased fuel efficiency, and less CO2 emissions.

Airlines are united in their determination to manage and reduce their impact on the environment in partnership with airports, air navigation service providers (ANSPs), and aircraft manufacturers.

“Tackling carbon (CO2) emissions is at the top of the agenda, and the industry has a well-established strategy and globally agreed targets to that end. Noise is addressed through the ICAO Balanced Approach. To deal with more general environmental issues, airlines are working together to establish and share best practices, including the use of environmental assessments,” says Hughes.

Chan adds, “For example, our ground handling contractor and subsidiary has implemented a GPS tracking system enabling us to efficiently manage the fuel consumption across our ground fleet of vehicles. In 2016, there was a decrease of 2.7 percent in fuel consumption per handled flight in comparison to the previous year. We expect additional improvement in fuel efficiency as the GPS tracking system is expanded.”

A leading indicator

Transport and logistics inevitably use fossil fuel as their primary energy source to move goods and services across global supply chains and distribution channels. As carbon is the leading source of emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel, the amount of carbon emissions released and its relative intensity are good indicators of efficiency.
“CO2 emission is the lead impacting factor in transport and logistics as it has a direct impact on environment. It’s found that to move a 5 Kg parcel, a less energy-efficient vehicle can emit 12 Kg of CO2. So, one can imagine the task we all have as an industry player to work towards this and improve for a sustainable society,” said Datta.
By the end of 2013, Lufthansa replaced all AKE aluminum containers by a lighter weight container, which on average saves 14 kilograms. The resulting CO2 saving, some 7,000 tons a year is a real win for the environment. Currently, all AKH container models are being replaced. The end goal is to replace all standard containers by 2020 using lighter materials.


Negative impact

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), aviation (including cargo and passenger) accounts for approximately 2 percent of global emissions from human activity.
As aviation grows to meet increasing demand, the IPCC has forecasted that by 2050, this could rise to 3 percent. At the same time, the combustion of non-renewable fossil fuels produces other air pollutants that may affect the health and well being of living organisms.

“To meet the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as agreed by the Paris Agreement, it is critical that all industries, including transportation, play a role in reducing emissions and improving carbon efficiency,” said Chan
Is sustainability on a run?

Sustainability is a journey and not a destination. The aviation industry already has more green freighters through more efficient technologies: each new generation of aircraft is on average 20 percent more fuel efficient than the model it replaces and over the next decade airlines will invest $1.3 trillion in new planes.
Planes are also more silent than ever before. The aviation industry measures and records its CO2 emissions, and is preparing for CORSIA, the global market based measure to offset carbon emissions.

In air traffic management, flights operations are improved with more efficient landing and departure methods. Specifically in freight, Unit Load Devices (ULDs), which carry cargo items in the planes, are lighter and improve fuel efficiency. E-freight is well underway, focusing on a paperless transportation process in air cargo.
“We are looking forward to seeing new technologies enter the market to make air freight even greener. The arrival of drones can be a new future for a greener air cargo, with more sustainable technologies, energy sources, and flight operations. Drones in the future can be used for all kinds of delivery (long-range, to short-range, small size deliveries, to large cargo loads), and the impact they will have on the environment seems to be low from what is currently being presented in the market,” said Hughes.

“Solar impulse has shown the aviation industry that solar power can be an option in the future as well. Look at how far we’ve come in only 100 years of aviation. We need to continue thinking ahead, securing the future, and creating value for a sustainable air cargo industry. The future looks green for air cargo,” affirms Hughes.
“We are beginning to see greener freight transportation through various initiatives being implemented or have been rolled out at individual airlines and across the industry to improve the sustainability of air cargo with more to come.

“Collectively, the industry today is 80% more fuel efficient per seat kilometer than the first jets in the 1960s. With the introduction of more modern and fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s, we believe the trend of sustained improvements in our fuel efficiency will continue in the years to come,” responds Chan.

“It’s already happening in various part of the world. Platooning vehicles by using smart radar systems using road-train, using electric vehicles for cargo pick-up and delivery, re-sizing the vehicles, using efficient fuel, replace traditional carriage by more modern fleet, usage of paper-less systems, periodic and genuine maintenance of vehicles, using smart technology with less handling and interface…and the list can keep adding on. Awareness towards the goal is important and this need to percolate down to the last person in the chain of logistics biz… and then days won’t be far to achieve a better and greener environment,” concludes Datta.