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Airports and Airlines Fly Toward Sustainability

The Airline Industry’s Move Toward Renewable Energy Is Being Pushed By San Diego International Airport, Jetblue, And Southwest Airlines.

The San Diego International Airport (SAN) is changing. Thanks to a brand new partnership with San Diego Community Power, the entire airport will run fully on 100 percent renewable, carbon-free energy – 15 years before its original goal! It’s the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the United States, delivering and sending off more than 25 million passengers annually. The airport’s sustainability policy is the first of its kind in the country, designed specifically to protect the city’s quality of life. SAN’s use of renewable energy is just one example of the airline industry’s recent push toward eco-friendly choices including others like  carbon offsets and renewable fuel.

Alongside power source changes at airports, the airlines are working hard to become more sustainable. In an industry where fuel is consumed in massive amounts, carbon offsets and carbon neutrality are important components of a greener airline. JetBlue is the first major U.S. airline to reach carbon neutrality on domestic flights. The company says carbon offsets (most often in the form of investments in solar, wind, and forestry) and the use of sustainable fuel made it happen. Their strategy was simple: invest in technology that saves fuel and be outspoken about it. The company also partnered with the Foundation, offsetting nearly 3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the first year alone. They have set an even loftier goal of 17 billion pounds per year in the future. Additionally, JetBlue has been pushing for more sustainable practices from air traffic control.

Domestic flights are not the only flights going green. In July, JetBlue began operating all flights from San Francisco to the rest of the world using MY Renewable Jet Fuel from Neste. This aviation fuel is made of 100 percent renewable raw materials. Sustainable aviation fuel is generally made from waste oils, greases, and fats from renewable feedstocks. It’s known as “drop-in” fuel, which means it can be used exactly like fossil fuels. This means existing aircraft engines and airport fuel systems don’t need to be modified to use the new fuel.

Photo Courtesy Nick Morales

“We reduce where we can and offset where we can’t,” said Robin Hayes, Chief Executive Officer of JetBlue. “By offsetting…flying, we’re preparing our business for the lower-carbon economy that aviation – and all sectors – must plan for.”

Southwest Airlines is also planning for that lower-carbon economy by working with energy company Phillips 66 to make sustainable aviation fuel readily available. The two companies’ plan focuses on research and development and includes public awareness campaigns. Phillips 66’s Rodeo Renewed project, a proposed transformation of a refinery in Contra Costa County, California to sustainable fuel production, is at the heart of the deal. The project alone could produce at least 800 million gallons of sustainable fuel in the first year of operation.

Photo Courtesy Samantha Gades

“We are excited to work with Southwest Airlines to find ways to help achieve its lower-carbon goals and to develop a path forward for sustainable aviation fuel that benefits all segments of the industry,” said Brian Mandell, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Commercial for Phillips 66.

Even further west, Alaska Airlines has also joined this collection of airlines in making a commitment to going net zero by 2040 and establishing aggressive carbon, waste and water reduction goals in the meantime.

The airline industry is planning for the future in smart ways, with a focus on carbon offsets and renewable fuel sources. With the San Diego International Airport, JetBlue, and Southwest leading the shift toward green energy, it’s only a matter of time until all American airports and airlines buckle in for a healthier, sustainable approach to air travel.


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