Net-zero target is within reach if pursued deliberately


By Marius van der Ham

As of 2022, air travel carbon emissions reached an estimated 800 Mt or 2% of the global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.


And while this was approximately 80% of the pre-pandemic levels, increasing demand for aviation services – projected to grow at between 2% and 5% by 2050 – will ultimately drive up the quantity of carbon emissions generated by the airline industry.


However, this adverse trajectory can be averted. By ramping up innovative aircraft technologies, “streamlining” flight operations and increasing the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), airlines can reduce the generation of carbon emissions by the quantities required to achieve Net Zero earlier than the 2050 target.


At Air France, we have taken the prerogative to accelerate our impact in this regard. For instance, we are continually upgrading our fleets to modern technologies, which generate much lower emissions. As of 2025, we will have added 38 Airbus A350s to our long-haul fleet and 60 Airbus A220s on our short and medium-haul fleet, replacing the A318 and A319 fleets. The new-generation aircraft produce 20% to 25% less carbon emissions, and their noise footprint has been reduced by a significant 40%.


They also consume significantly lesser fuel. The aircraft on our fleet currently consume an average of 3.3 litres per passenger/100km.  In comparison, the A350 consumes nearly 25% less at 2.5 litres per passenger/100km. This is as the A220 expends 2.6 litres per passenger/100km, thanks to the incorporation of close to 40% lighter materials (lithium aluminium and composite materials) in its construction.


Yet flight renewal is only part of our multi-pronged strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of our airline. We are also pioneering the transition to SAFs, which will be the main lever for decarbonising air transport in coming years. Produced from non-fossil fuel sources, the SAFs selected by Air France reduce carbon emissions by at least 75% over the entire life cycle, and can be used today without any modification to aircraft and flight operations.


As part of the supportive ecosystem, we have engaged our customers to support the accelerated adoption of SAFs through a subscription option that allows them to voluntarily contribute during ticketing a fee to facilitate the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) in our flights, including cargo hauls. Customers are free to choose their level of investment, with a guarantee that their contribution will be exclusively used to purchase SAFs, cleaner alternatives to conventional jet fuel.


Meanwhile, we also run arrangements that favor low-carbon alternatives on shorter journeys, and more energy-efficient flights on longer journeys, helping our customers to minimise the overall carbon footprint of their trips. For example, in France, we have over the last 25 years offered a service that allows our customers to combine train and air travel in the same reservation, with guaranteed connections.

This ‘intermodiality’ option is popular with customers travelling to and from Paris-Charles de Gaulle and the Paris-Orly airports, with more than 160,000 travellers using it every year.


Finally, from an operational standpoint, we are implementing eco-piloting techniques that significantly reduce aircraft fuel consumption. For instance, our pilots are trained to use single-engine taxiing, saving up to 700kg of fuel per departure and arrival for the Airbus A350. They also leverage AI-powered tools to optimize flight trajectories for fuel efficiency. Moreover, pilots can use bridge electricity instead of the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU) before engine start-up, further reducing fuel usage.


All the aforementioned efforts align with Air France’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility through prudent energy management and deliberate emissions reduction. By implementing innovative aircraft technologies, including the adoption of fuel-efficient aircraft, and investing in alternative fuels, as well as business practices that are considerate of our energy usage and waste production, Air France continues to set a benchmark for the aviation industry.

The writer is the General Manager for East, Southern, Nigeria, and Ghana at Air France-KLM. 

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