Fly green: These are the ‘cleanest’ transpacific airlines

China’s Hainan and Japan’s ANA ranked cleanest transpacific airlines. Source: Shutterstock

WE all know air travel isn’t great for the environment, but sometimes it’s unavoidable when you need to get to where you’re going. While we may not be able to stop air travel completely, thanks to the International Council on Clean Travel (ICCT), we can at least make informed decisions to limit the damage.

A recent study by the independent non-profit organization found that China’s Hainan Airlines and Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) ranked the most fuel-efficient airlines on transpacific operations in 2016.

The East Asian carriers wiped the floor with leading carrier Qantas for nonstop flights between the mainland United States, East Asia and Oceania. The Australian national carrier was ranked as the least fuel-efficient out of the 20 airlines investigated, burning an average of 64 percent more fuel per passenger-kilometer than Hainan and ANA.

According to the report, Hainan and ANA achieved the same overall fuel efficiency using very different strategies. Hainan Airline’s high performance reflects its use of Boeing’s fuel-efficient aircraft, Dreamliner 787. The use of this aircraft reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 16 percent compared to other models of aircraft.

ANA, in contrast, operated aircraft with higher fuel burn but carried more payload, especially cargo.

Qantas recorded poor fuel efficiency because it operated the most fuel-intensive aircraft at very low load factors for both passengers and freight.

Two-engine aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus 380, are the least fuel efficient and are predominantly used by Qantas and other carriers at the bottom of the list, namely Asiana and Korean Air.

“There’s a reason that airlines around the world are starting to avoid very large aircraft like the 747 and A380,” said Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s aviation program director and co-author of the paper. “Newer twin-engine widebodies provide the payload and range capabilities needed for transpacific flights with much lower fuel burn.”

But the top accolade is due to more than just aircraft type, Hainan Airlines has also been exploring other strategies for green travel and sustainable development. In June 2016, Hainan co-founded the “Green Aviation Initiative Network” with 27 other companies, aiming to develop a platform that facilitates conversations on green travel.

A year later, the carrier completed its first transcontinental flight with an aircraft fueled in part by biofuels derived from waste cooking oil. The plane took off from Beijing and landed in Chicago, putting China on the map as a world leader reaching their goals for a green economy.

Until recently, there has been very little public information on airline fuel efficiency. But, as evidence mounts of the aviation industry’s contribution aviation makes towards climate change (accounting for about 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions), studies like this from the ICCT are welcome news for any passenger looking to minimize their carbon footprint.