Carbon Footprint of Air Travel
We hear that air transport is damaging the climate and that every flight of a scheduled passenger plane is a huge amount of carbon dioxide emitted. How is it really? How do a flight’s total CO2 emissions translate into passengers’ personal carbon footprint? What is worth remembering when analyzing data related to the carbon footprint of air travel? And is it possible to somehow compensate for the flight on vacation? We translate with examples.
We are going on vacation or on a business trip. Of course, by plane – in practice, there is no other way to reach most places in the world. Or at least many of us think so.
The standard approach in determining the impact of services or products on the climate is to calculate their carbon footprint, i.e. the total CO 2 emissions associated with their production or delivery. Such a footprint should, strictly speaking, include both direct emissions (in the case of an airplane flight, related to fuel combustion) and indirect emissions (e.g. related to aircraft production, fuel supply, airport terminal electricity, etc.). The latter, however, is very difficult to estimate and rarely included, for example, in passenger carbon footprint calculators available on airline websites. Therefore, in this text, we will focus on direct emissions.
The vast majority of aircraft in use today run on fuels produced from petroleum. The fuel for jet and turboprop engines is aviation kerosene (kerosene), and the fuel for piston engines used in some propeller planes is aviation gasoline ( avgas ).
Naturally, the combustion of such fuels in aircraft engines produces carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions. What are the CO2 emissions per flight? And how big is the “carbon footprint” of our journey, i.e. the emission per person traveling?
This of course depends on where you’re flying: the farther you go, the higher the emissions. However, this is not as simple a relationship as it might seem. CO 2 emissions are not exactly proportional to the distance traveled by aircraft, although this may be assumed to be the first approximation. For example, on shorter flights, take-off and climb emissions account for a proportionately larger share of total emissions.
It is also important which airlines we choose.
A flight across the Atlantic is several hundred kilograms of CO 2 per person
Let’s say that we use the services of our national carrier – LOT Polish Airlines and that we are going to Lisbon. This is one of the longest flights we can take in Europe. A one-way trip is 228 kg of CO 2 emitted per head; round trip, therefore: 456 kg CO 2.
How about a plane trip to the other side of the Atlantic? From London Heathrow to New York JFK: 460 kg, round trip 920 kg. From Warsaw to Chicago: 624 kg of CO 2 one way, a total of 1248 kg, or 1.25 tons of CO2.
Aviation Emissions Calculators
The figures above are from the aviation emissions calculator. Here, from the one that can be found on the PLL LOT website. Of course, not only does “LOT” has such calculators, other airlines as well. For example, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Let’s use their calculator to calculate the CO2 emissions associated with traveling from London (Heathrow) to New York and Newark (EWR because SAS apparently doesn’t fly to JFK). We will get 330 kg (one way), not 460 kg as in the case of the LOT calculator.
Why this difference? Probably mainly because each carrier has a different fleet. And individual aircraft models differ in the amount of fuel consumed per kilometer of flight and the number of seats.