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ICCT finds no net gain in fuel efficiency of US domestic airlines operations 2012-2013

There has been no net gain in the fuel efficiency of US domestic airlines operations from 2012 to 2013, according to a new report released by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) comparing the fuel efficiency—and therefore carbon intensity—of US airlines on domestic operations in 2013.

The report, which is an annual update to an earlier report (earlier post), also investigates changes in fuel efficiency since 2010, both for individual airlines and the industry as a whole.

Dr. Daniel Rutherford and Irene Kwan linked the slowing industry improvement rate in recent years to a lack of new, more-efficient aircraft types, the time lag between new aircraft delivery and penetration into the in-use fleet, and diminishing gains from increasing load factors.

Alaska, Spirit, and Frontier tied as the most fuel-efficient domestic carriers in 2013. Alaska and Spirit have consistently led the performance ranking since ICCT’s original baseline analysis of 2010 data. Frontier jumped ahead of Southwest Airlines due to a large (+10%) one-year improvement.

The ICCT researchers also found that the fuel efficiency gap between the most and least efficient airlines widened slightly to 27% in 2013. Allegiant improved its fuel efficiency in 2013 by adding second-hand Boeing 757-200, A320 and A319 aircraft to its older MD-80s fleet starting in 2011, while American’s fuel efficiency declined by about 1.5% from 2012 to 2013.

Domestic flights in the US account for about 24% of global CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft, and are expected to grow an average of 1% per year over the next 20 years, increasing annual emissions from 116 million metric tons (MMT) in 2014 to about 143 MMT CO2 by 2034.

There continues to be no clear correlation between airline profitability and efficiency, though all 13 major US domestic carriers were profitable in 2013.


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