UK airline Flybe says it is the first in the world to introduce eco-labels for its fleet. Passengers on Flybe flights can find their aircraft’s label in a leaflet in their seat pocket, painted on the fuselage by the doors and on the airline’s website when they book flights.
The labels were developed by environmental consultancy Entec. They cover noise and local air pollution from take off and landing, carbon dioxide emissions for the entire flight - both per passenger and for the whole aircraft - and the "passenger environment", which comes down to the distance between seats.
Most parameter are graded, ranging from an ‘A’, colour coded deep green, through yellow and orange to a bright red ‘F’. It makes for a complex eco-label containing 12 different letters or numbers for each aircraft type.
Flybe’s fleet of 82 aircraft has received mixed results. On noise, none of its six types achieve worse than a ‘B’. On CO2 emissions per seat, the labels range from an ‘E’ for its older BAe 146s to a ‘B’ for its modern Bombardier Q400 and Embraer 195s. By the summer of 2009, Flybe plans to operate only these two types of aircraft.
Flybe hopes its eco-labels, launched in June, will lead the aviation industry to agree a universal ecolabelling system. It is the third or fourth largest UK-registered carrier, depending on what is measured, and specialises in connecting regional airports, mostly within Britain and Northern Ireland. Several routes have taken business from long-distance train services, which generally produce lower CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre than flying.
Chief executive Jim French said Flybe acknowledged air travel’s contribution to climate change, and accepted its duty to minimise its carbon footprint by buying "the most environmentally sensitive aircraft" and operating them responsibly. "Our eco-labels… help bring pressure across the industry to reduce emissions by improving standards," he said.
Standardised, industry-wide aircraft eco-labels would provide useful, but incomplete, information to passengers concerned about their contribution to climate change. Actual emissions per flight and per passenger are influenced by aircraft operation. Seat numbers and the amount filled each flight are the biggest factors, which is why Flybe’s eco-label refers to CO2 per seat rather than per passenger. Performance is also affected by the amount of time spent taxiing and how much of a flight is spent at the optimal cruise altitude - both of which depend on air traffic control.
Flybe is investing in lower emission aircraft but, in common with other airlines, its total CO2 emissions have been rising fast thanks to its rapid growth.
It began in 1979 as Jersey European Airways, with a handful of aircraft and routes. Last autumn it bought British Airways subsidiary BA Connect, doubling passenger numbers. It offers passengers the opportunity to buy offsets for emissions and supports aviation’s inclusion in the EU emissions trading scheme.
Entec prepared its ratings using data published by aviation bodies and aero-engine and aircraft manufacturers. Technical director Alun McIntyre said: "We applaud Flybe for having taken such a proactive and responsible stance on this issue."
Entec also rated several other types of common passenger aircraft, covering some 40% of jets owned by UK-registered airlines.
Its data shows CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre ranging from 111 grams for the big, long-distance Boeing 747-400, which first went into service 18 years ago, to 55g for its much smaller short-haul cousin, the Boeing 737-800, which began airline operations in 2000. Engine and airframe manufacturers have slashed fuel use and CO2 emissions over the decades, but not enough to offset flying’s rapid growth.
Boeing claims its new, long-range 787 Dreamliner due to enter service next year, achieves a further step-change in fuel economy and reduced emissions. But the Airbus A380, Europe’s new jumbo which will be the largest passenger aircraft, claims emissions of 75g per passenger kilometre - which would put it only in the middle of the performance range set out by Entec.