Sustainability in Travel 2021: Environmental Performance of the Six Largest Airlines

by Varsha Arora & Wouter Geerts + Skift Team - Apr 2021

Skift Research Take

Pressure is growing on airlines to reduce their carbon emissions. But how to do that when you burn through gallons of jet fuel? Our analysis found that airlines have made good progress in becoming more fuel efficient, but have a long way to go to make significant reductions in emissions long-term.

Report Overview

There are increasing pressures on the airline industry to reduce its carbon emissions. Aviation contributes about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and while far from the most polluting industry, is receiving more and more public scrutiny and needs to clean up its act.

In this report we investigate current emission reduction performance of the six largest airline companies: Air France-KLM, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, International Airlines Group, Lufthansa, and United Airlines. We use IATA’s short, medium, and long-term targets for emission reductions to analyze each company’s commitment to run a more environmentally sustainable operation.

We found that most companies come close to achieving short-term fuel efficiency targets, but fall short on medium- and long-term targets, providing only limited evidence that they are making concerted efforts to achieve these targets. As these six companies are frontrunners in the industry in many ways, it leaves us worried that the readiness of the industry as a whole to achieve emission reduction targets is lacking.

What You'll Learn From This Report

  • The airline company leaders and laggards in emission reduction.
  • How the aviation industry tracks and reports its emissions, and how this can be improved.
  • The targets set to reduce emissions by airline bodies and individual airlines.
  • How close the largest airlines are to achieving short-, medium-, and long-term goals.
  • The shortcomings of current metrics and initiatives to meet medium- and long-term goals.