Travellers with an environmental conscience would do well to avoid British Airways if booking flights to America, after the airline was ranked bottom for fuel efficiency by a new study.
The British flag carrier was at the foot of a table of 20 transatlantic operators, according to research by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), burning 63 per cent more fuel per passenger kilometre than the top-ranked airline - low-cost, long-haul stalwart, Norwegian.
The report released on Tuesday found that fuel efficiency across the 20 airlines flying the most people across the Atlantic in 2017 had increased by 1 per cent since 2014, but that large, ageing aircraft, such as the 747, were holding the industry average back.
Next year the aviation industry will begin monitoring their carbon emissions as part of a landmark agreement to cut air travel pollution by 2050, thought to account for 2 per cent of all global man-made carbon emissions.
Eight airlines, including UK carriers Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic, boasted better fuel efficiency than the average, both ranking joint fifth. Virgin last year said that fuel efficiency was its number one environmental policy.
The eight most fuel-efficient planes
These aircraft all had passenger kilometre per litre values higher than the average
- Airbus A350-900
- Boeing 787-9
- Boeing 787-8
- Airbus A330-300
- Boing 757-300
- Boeing 777-300ER
- Boeing 737 MAX
- Airbus A321
The ICCT study highlighted the environmental value of new fuel efficient aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner, the Boeing 777 and 737 MAX and Airbus A350, the former used by Norwegian and Virgin. It also found that Norwegian and second-placed WOW air, another low-cost, long-haul airline, performed well as their planes had fewer premium seats and a higher passenger density. Premium seats, such as business and first class, are on average up to 2.7 times as “carbon-intensive” as economy seats.
“Overall, airlines with more fuel-efficient aircraft, less premium seating and higher passenger and freight load factors operated more fuel efficient flights,” the report by the US-based not-for-profit organisation said.
“The estimated gap between the most and least fuel-efficient transatlantic airlines widened from 51 per cent in 2014 to 63 per cent last year,” the report said, explaining that Norwegian’s fuel efficiency increased while British Airways’ decreased.
“BA flew more than half of its departures on inefficient Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 aircraft, leading to an average aircraft fuel burn eight percentage points higher than the industry average. These aircraft also have a lower seating density compared to the rest of the industry.”
The report said of BA’s plans to purchase more A380s, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, with four engines and an upper deck: “Although larger airplanes with more premium seating may conjure up feelings of luxury travel, they do not help the airline’s environmental performance.”
BA was also mentioned for its use of the 32-seater, business-only Airbus A318 that flies between London City and New York John F Kennedy on weekdays. The luxurious seating configuration makes the flight the least fuel-efficient across the Atlantic.
A spokesperson for British Airways said that its greater share of the premium market to the US meant it had more business and first class seats on its aircraft “which is the main reason its fuel efficiency per passenger appears lower”.
The spokesperson said: “We are investing heavily in modern, fuel-efficient aircraft, including the 787 and A350, and by 2020 will have received more than 100 new aircraft in a decade. We are well on course to deliver a 25 per cent improvement in carbon emissions reduction by 2025.”
Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos said: “The most important thing that an airline can do for the environment is to invest in newer aircraft which use the latest technology to be as fuel efficient as possible.
“Our strategy to have a modern fleet is paying dividends not only for our business and customers, but also our planet. This recognition from ICCT is truly the highest form of industry praise and is validation that we’re moving in the right direction with more environmentally friendly planes.”
This week the Gatwick-based airline said it was scrapping its Singapore route, claimed to be the world’s longest budget flight, travelling 6,764 miles over nearly 13 hours on a Boeing 787, after just 12 months of operation.
A spokesperson said the airline continually evaluates its network to ensure it meets customer demand, adding: “We have taken the decision to no longer operate our Gatwick to Singapore service from 12th January 2019 and use this capacity elsewhere on our network. Customers who have booked to fly after this period will be offered alternative options to reach their destination or a full refund.”
The airline has instead turned its attention south and west to Brazil. Kjos told US media this week that Norwegian will launch a London Gatwick to Rio de Janeiro service next spring, adding to its other South American service to Buenos Aires.
British Airways, meanwhile, said it was to draft in Air Belgium again this month to serve its Heathrow to Abu Dhabi routes, as its Dreamliners continued to suffer from mechanical issues.
The charter airline was used on its Cairo routes at the start of September but have now been shifted onto the Middle Eastern service. From September 15 for 20 days, guests anticipating a flight on a new Dreamliner will instead be flown on a 10 year-old Airbus A330.