In a statement made yesterday, Chief of Sustainability Pam Fletcher announced the advancement of Delta’s sustainability plans by offering a transparent view into their vision of sustainable air travel. The statement was made in reference to their ambitious 2020 goal where the airline declared its intentions to become the first carbon-neutral airline.

Delta aircraft waiting on runway, visible on right-hand side
Delta readdresses its 2020 goals of becoming the first carbon-neutral airline | © Chris Sweigart via Delta

A Carbon Neutral Future Ahead as Delta’s Sustainability Plans are Accelerated

Yesterday’s report was divided into three sections: long term, medium term and short time. The sections go into the airline’s efforts in making its operations a step closer to carbon neutrality, with steps such as reducing single-use plastics onboard, introducing an electric ground fleet and numerous partnerships to make their goals financially achievable. So, let us start with a breakdown of the airline’s long-term plans.

In the Long term

Delta has an established partnership with Airbus to study the possibilities of a hydro-powered aircraft in commercial aviation. In recent years, planes running on liquid hydrogen have been tested and proven to have benefits that could see it become a potential alternative in the future.

According to reports made on using hydrogen as fuel, the reality of having commercial planes operate in this way is not far off at all. By 2035, hydro-powered planes could potentially be introduced to the market as long as all its requirements are met – such as the complete redesign of the plane’s interior to accommodate and store liquid hydrogen as well as the safe transportation of the fuel to airports.

A digitalised Airbus Hydro-powered aircraft flies through a blue sky
Planes fuelled by hydrogen could take to the skies by 2035 at the earliest | © Airbus 2021

In the Medium Term

Sustainable air fuel (SAF) has been recognised by organisations as the future of aviation, and so the inclusion of this fuel was essential in Delta’s sustainability plans. Unlike using hydrogen, SAF wouldn’t require aircraft to change their interiors and so is the most compatible choice.

Fletcher also acknowledges the challenges and barriers that the airline must overcome to make its goals a reality. SAF is highly inaccessible because of the small scale it is currently being produced at, and would cost a lot more than standard jet fuel. Therefore, Delta plans to gain partnerships with state and federal governments to help the accessibility of SAF become a priority, which in turn would make it a more affordable fuel.

In the Short Term

The efforts listed here are the goals Delta is hoping to meet in the next five years. By 2025, the airline aims to swap out 50% of its ground fleet for electric models – with five of its major hubs in sight of becoming fully electric in the next three years.

In addition to this, their recent order of Boeing 737s will push the airline closer to its goals as the aircraft operates with a 25% improved fuel efficiency.

All passengers will be able to use biodegradable food service items onboard Delta flights as single-use plastic will be completely removed.

Delta Aims for Sustainable Air Travel in the Near Future

Delta has already seen impressive progress, with its end-of-year CO2 reports looking to show a reduced fuel consumption of over ten million gallons. The dream of significantly reducing the aviation sector’s carbon footprint is not one that can be achieved by one airline, unfortunately. Hopefully, every airline will develop similar plans so that we can collectively reduce the effects of climate change at a faster rate.

“Focusing on progress – not perfection, will define our path.” – Pam Fletcher, Chief Sustainability Officer for Delta

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