Delta Air Lines And Airbus Test Carbon Neutral Aircraft Deliveries

Source: By Grant Martin, Forbes • Posted: Monday, July 15, 2019

On Friday, the first carbon-neutral delivery from Airbus to Delta between Mobile, Alabama and Kansas City, Missouri was complete. Delta plans to take a grand total of 20 Airbus A321 deliveries in this way by utilizing a BP biofuel mixture at the assembly plant and by offsetting the rest of the carbon burned during the delivery process.

It’s not clear how much biofuel is in the mixture that Delta and BP are using (a recent Virgin Atlantic flightbetween Orlando and London marketed as the world’s first waste-based biofuel commercial flight, for example, only flew with 6% biofuel in the aircraft’s tanks). After Delta’s aircraft are delivered from the assembly plant in Mobile into the hands of the carrier for final refinements, each A321 will enter service using conventional fuels and services.

The flights also only represent a small portion of the aircraft deliveries on the books for Delta. At press, Delta has over 250 aircraft on order between Boeing and Airbus, making the carbon-free flights less than a tenth of the overall deliveries.

Still, Delta’s carbon-free aircraft deliveries are another step in the direction of sustainable air travel and part of a wider range of initiatives across the entire airline industry. In June, United Airlines operateda “flight for the planet” in which it used extra biofuel, compostable cutlery and low-carbon ingredients for meal selections as a way to showcase its sustainable efforts. Delta, too, was the first airline to remove a variety of single-use plastics from its operation as well as the first to recycle aluminum, plastic and paper from its flights. At this point, most major carriers have moved away from plastic straws and have some sort of environmentally-friendly spin on the products that they deliver.

There’s much more to do. Delta and United’s efforts this summer have proven that sustainable initiatives are viable from both the proof-of-concept and the marketing perspectives, but neither carrier has committed to integrating any of its showcased capabilities into mainline operation. For its part, Delta claims that its long-term goal is a 50 percent reduction in carbon emission by 2050. By experimenting with biofuels and investing in carbon offsets, it has now proven that environmentally friendlier approaches to air travel can be deployed. Now, it needs to figure how to carry those initiatives over into mainline service.