A lot has been said about the environmental impact of aviation, particularly on carbon emissions from the burning of jet fuel. Aviation accounts for some 3% of global carbon emissions, much less than ground transportation or power generation. Yet this industry garners a disproportionately larger share of criticism (and in some cases extremely punitive taxes) because of its visibility.
Airlines have taken different approaches on this issue. Some have ignored this issue altogether, especially now as they focus on basic survival. Many have opted for introducing carbon-offset schemes that offer airline passengers the option of paying for their ‘carbon footprint’, with the funds ploughed into carbon credit schemes. Many ‘specialist’ companies have emerged offering expertise in conducting ‘carbon audits’ or designing and administering these offset schemes.
As I study this issue in-depth, I’ve grown sceptical of carbon offset schemes. They appear to me as ‘passing-the-buck’, and making passengers pay for their own guilt and assuage their conscience. I believe we can derive more meaningful impact by taking on the responsibility ourselves as airline operators, to seek and strive for more efficient use of fuel. Unlike some other industries, in aviation, we don’t have the issue of ‘externality’, where pollution is not explicitly accounted for. 99% of total emissions from airline operations come from our aircrafts’ jet fuel consumption. And Jet Fuel is something we are very sensitive to. Its the largest cost component. Therefore, efficiency directly benefits our bottom-line. When we save fuel, we get a direct financial benefit as well as directly reduce our environmental impact. In other words, we have an alignment of goals, not a conflict.
So, at AirAsia X, we’ve opted to be zealous about fuel management and are constantly finding innovative ways to break new ground. Many think fuel consumption is the same for any airline. We disagree. And now, we have the numbers to back it up.
In 2009, we’ve proven that our unconventional long-haul model can break world records on cost efficiency. We achieved a unit cost of 2.7 US cents per available-seat-kilometre (including fuel). That’s lower than all the big-names in the global low-cost airline industry, and less than half of other long-haul operators. That figure is comprised of 1.6 US cents for non-fuel operations and only 1.1 cents for fuel. Even on the fuel cost per ASK, we’re significantly lower than other carriers.
Part of that may be because we were fortunate not to be disadvantaged by burdensome fuel hedging contracts that weighed down on many airlines in 2009, but even if we strip out the effect of fuel price, we believe we’ve also broken records on fuel quantity consumed.
Our average rate for 2009 was 2.4 litres per seat per 100km. 30% of that comes from our less-efficient A340 aircraft. In 2010, we think we can make further improvements as our fleet will have more efficient new A330 aircraft. At 2.4 litres, we estimate we’re 30% more efficient than other conventional airlines. A Toyota Prius burns more than double this rate.
New Rolls Royce Trent 700 Engines that give us superior fuel efficiency
At the heart of this achievement is an AirAsia X team that is united and passionate about redefining performance standards. I’m truly proud of my Flight Operations leadership team – Capt Han, Capt Michael, Capt Ling, Capt Leslie and Capt Theva; and my Engineering team led by Anaz – Soo, Suresh, Razali and the rest of the gang.
We’ve been tireless in our quest to achieve this new performance record. The pilots have invested a lot to improve flight planning with more accurate plans and systems, and flight techniques, especially during take-off, landing, and cruise modes. The engineers have been meticulous in spec-ing out the aircraft, minimizing every single of kilogram of weight that’s not required onboard, constantly monitoring engine health and keeping our superbly-performing Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines humming at their most efficient levels. No idea is dismissed and every small opportunity is pursued. The biggest competitive differentiator though, is the teamwork and culture that underpins all of our initiatives. Everyone recognizes that “Every precious drop counts”.