With recent studies articulating the averse environmental impact caused by air travel, Delta – Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s largest carrier – is going greener.
Delta Air Lines Inc. announced Friday it will commit $1 billion over the next decade toward becoming the first completely carbon-neutral airline. The effort will focus on three pillars: carbon reduction, carbon removal and stakeholder engagement.
The Atlanta-based airline will reduce its carbon footprint via “enterprise-wide efforts to decrease the use of jet fuel and increase efficiency,” according to a news release. Last year, Delta added to its fleet more than 80 new planes, including two Airbus A330-900neo planes, which produce 25% lower fuel burn than previous generation planes. Delta plans to replace about 35% of its mainline fleet by 2023 with more fuel-efficient aircraft.
Delta is investing in “innovative projects and technology” to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere that “go beyond the airline’s current commitments.” It also is investigating carbon-removal through forestry, wetland restoration, grassland conservation, marine and soil capture, and other “negative-emissions technologies.”
Finally, the airline intends to build coalitions “with employees, suppliers, global partners, customers, industry colleagues, investors and other stakeholders to advance carbon reduction and removal goals and maximize our global impact.”
All of this is meant to combat the findings of new research conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation. The study of 2018 data determined the aviation industry had seen a 32% increase in emissions over the preceding five years. Brandon Garver, who led the study, told the New York Times, “the climate challenge for aviation is worse than anyone expected.” Airline travel is responsible for 2.4% of emissions globally, according to the study.
Delta burned more than four billion gallons of fuel in each of 2017, 2018 and 2019, slightly increasing its fuel consumption each year, according to the company’s most recent 10-K annual report.
“There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution,” Delta chief executive officer Ed Bastian said in a statement. “We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation. We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come.”
In the past, Delta has purchased carbon offsets, cut the use of plastics for in-flight services, sourced sustainable ingredients for in-flight meals and invested in studies on sustainable biofuel. To coincide with Earth Day last April, Delta pledged to offset the emissions of all travel into and out of New York; Boston; Seattle; Los Angeles; Atlanta; and RDU.
Delta generated $6.2 billion in pre-tax revenue in 2019, per its fiscal year-end earnings report.
The airline accounted for nearly 31 percent of all passengers boarding planes at RDU in 2019.