Jet engines emit carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other gasses that contribute to climate change. But let’s face it. Our environment faces the fundamental challenge of an exploding human population that desires ever higher standards of living. With current technology, more people and higher standards of living usually come with environmentally unfriendly side dishes of greater consumption of resources and more undesirable waste.
New technologies can help. The airline industry attempts to mitigate its environmental impact by using more fuel efficient aircraft. That helps the airline’s bottom line and the environment. Improvements in engine design and aerodynamic innovations like winglets on wing tips have been the major source of efficiency improvements. Air travel growth, however, more than offsets the gains from improved efficiency. Now, Alaska Airlines is testing a new method of reducing the aviation environmental footprint.
Alaska just signed a four-year sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) offtake agreement with Neste, the world’s largest producer of renewable jet fuel. Alaska commits to use Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel for its operations at San Francisco International Airport, one of Alaska’s primary hubs. The agreement provides assurances to Neste’s investors that will be helpful in obtaining financing for producing the fuel.
Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel is made from wastes including animal fats and greases and used cooking oil. It is a drop-in fuel with existing aircraft engines and airport infrastructure, requiring no extra investment. Currently, SAF can be blended with conventional jet fuel until additional testing with pure SAF can be done. Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel could have up to 80% smaller carbon footprint compared to conventional jet fuel. In addition, SAF burns cleaner and can reduce sulfur and particulates. The use of SAF could expand to Alaska’s other operations in time.
Alaska Airlines maybe the best airline in the U.S. It regularly records on-time statistics that are equal to or better than Delta Air Lines and it has outstanding service. Alaska has what I think is the best frequent flyer program because it still awards airline miles based on distance flown rather than the price of the ticket and it does not have minimum spend requirements for elite status. Alaska addressed deficiencies in its route system by persuading American Airlines to reverse course and enter into a stronger partnership agreement and Alaska is joining the Oneworld airline alliance next year. Its agreement with Neste only raises its standing further.