Airlines, airports, aviation organizations and aerospace manufacturers worldwide have dedicated themselves to the innovative and practical development of sustainability programs necessary to operate more efficiently and to minimize their carbon footprints. They are relentless in this pursuit because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes good business sense. The goals of many of these eco-aviation programs are coming to fruition and efficiencies are being demonstrated daily.

Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the list of this year’s ATWEco-Aviation Award winners. The endeavors and investments of these airlines and companies add up to success stories that will change the future of commercial aviation for the good of the environment and the industry.

ATW editors were proud to honor the 2013 Eco-Aviation Award Winners at a dinner on Sept. 12 to be held in conjunction with the ATW6th Annual Eco-Aviation Conference at the Westin City Center Hotel in Washington DC.

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The 2013 Winners

Gold Eco-Airline of the Year

United Airlines

Silver Eco-Airline of the Year


Eco-Pioneer of the Year

Qantas Group

Eco-Partnership of the Year

Airbus & Air Canada

Eco-Technology of the Year



Gold Eco-Airline of the Year

United Airlines

United Airlines has clearly made it a priority to develop and pursue its own rigorous environment and efficiency goals while also taking a lead in significantly influencing sustainability in the general commercial airline environment. ATWeditors were impressed with United’s practical approach to environmental action, with goals that are achievable, measurable, and which help take the entire industry forward. United management was also applauded for proactively engaging in climate change and biofuels working group initiatives, dedicating time and resources to such organizations as the IATA Climate Change Task Force and the Airlines for America (A4A) Environment Council, which United chairs. It was this combination of can-do spirit and determination to walk-the-walk on eco initiatives that caught the eye of the judges and made United a stand-out for its environmental and efficiency endeavors.

“This is a great honor for United and I’m proud of the work that my co-workers do every day to be responsible stewards for the environment,” said Jeff Smisek, chairman, president and chief executive officer of United Airlines. “Our initiatives are paying off as we reduce United’s environmental footprint and work together toward a sustainable future for our company and our industry.”

United’s Eco-Skies program maintains the company’s commitment to the environment and includes actions taken every day to create a sustainable future. United’s recent environmental achievements include having more than 290 fuel-efficient aircraft on order and being the US launch customer for the Boeing 787, which achieves a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency versus the aircraft it is replacing. The airline also has 35 Airbus A350-1000s on order, which will consume approximately 20% less fuel per seat than the widebody aircraft it will replace.

United is on track to meet its 2013 goal to reduce fuel usage by 85 million gallons and associated carbon emissions by 828,750 metric tons. Last year, the company saved 83 million gallons of fuel due to fleet replacement and fuel efficiency initiatives, reducing carbon emissions by 811,000 metric tons.

In June 2013, United announced an historic partnership with AltAir Fuels with an agreement to purchase 15 million gallons of commercial-scale and cost-competitive advanced aviation biofuels for flights out of the airline’s Los Angeles hub as early as 2014.

United spearheaded the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuel Initiative (MASBI)—a public/private collaboration of more than 40 nationally-recognized organizations focused on accelerating the commercialization of advanced biofuels for aviation (2012).

United has also achieved several milestones with biofuels, including the first US commercial flight powered by advanced biofuel in 2011; the first North American commercial airline to operate a demonstration flight using synthetic fuel made from natural gas in 2010; and the first North American carrier to perform a two-engine aircraft flight demonstration using sustainable biofuels in 2009.

United has launched the Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) initiative to better understand the environmental performance of its suppliers and deepen relationships with its key supply chain partners. The United Eco-Skies Community Grants program awards $50,000 to 10 non-profits located in its hub communities, such as the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation, to promote engagement and volunteerism.

Silver Eco-Airline of the Year


Lowering fuel burn—and correspondingly carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions—has become the mantra of airlines worldwide looking to control costs and lessen the environmental impact of their operations. Airberlin, Germany’s second-largest carrier and Europe’s seventh-largest in terms of passengers carried, has taken a comprehensive approach to fuel efficiency that has made the airline a global model for eco-friendly flying.

In 2012, airberlin decreased fuel burn per 100 RPKs to 3.4 liters, the best among European network carriers. The airline is not satisfied, however, aiming to lower fuel burn to 3 liters per 100 RPKs by 2015.

Airberlin credits a young aircraft fleet averaging five years in age and an across-the-board approach to reducing fuel consumption for its operational efficiency. Airberlin VP-performance improvement Felix Genze recently told ATWthat “only 30%-35% of fuel consumption is in the hands of pilots. The rest is maintenance, flight planning, operations, dispatch, weight and balance and technical.” The airline has come up with 55 measures offering the potential for conserving fuel.

Its latest effort, introduced in January 2013, is a computer-based “aerodynamic audit tool” developed in partnership with the Technical University of Berlin. The application is used to track and remedy fuel-consuming aerodynamic loss. It runs on a tablet-style device that can be hooked up to a keyboard and screen, and uses aerodynamic loss data sourced from Airbus and Boeing.

“We audit aircraft for aerodynamic loss, for example peeling paint,” Genze said. “Then we enter this data into the program, which immediately calculates and shows the benefits of repairing the aerodynamic deficiencies that we have identified.”

Airberlin is running the audits on its aircraft during every A Check, with its entire 150-aircraft fleet expected to be audited by the end of the year. It expects the program will save 2,100 tons of fuel per year across the fleet.

Airberlin has also introduced a voluntary “fuel coaching” program for flight deck crew to promote fuel-efficiency awareness among its pilots. Other operational measures aimed at increasing efficiency include performing a greater number of RNP precision approaches, optimizing aircraft load distribution and tailoring sector lengths.

Eco-Pioneer of the Year

Qantas Group

Australia-based Qantas Group has long committed to embedding environmental performance and sustainability principles within all of its management systems, policies and practices.

“Environmental sustainability is a guiding principle for Qantas as a business—it’s part of our responsibility to our customers, employees and the community,” John Valastro, Qantas Head of Environment, said.

“It is also a financial imperative, given that our annual fuel bill exceeds A$4 billion ($3.65 billion) and fuel accounts for 95% of our emissions. We aim to lead by example—through our fuel efficiency and biofuel initiatives—but also to play a role in the industry forums dedicated to reducing aviation’s impact on the environment. Only through industry-wide action can aviation genuinely make progress towards the goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020.”

Qantas has a three-part Environmental Priority package. The first part is the Direct Greenhouse Gas Emissions policies that include fuel efficiency, sustainable aviation fuel, fleet renewal and carbon offset.

The airline operated its first biofuel flights, a Sydney-Adelaide Airbus A330, derived from cooking oil, split 50:50 with conventional jet fuel. Produced by SkyNRG, it has been fully certified and endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund. Its ‘life cycle’ carbon footprint is around 60% smaller than that of conventional jet fuel. Qantas reports that studies show this industry could generate 20,000 jobs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 17% in the aviation sector over the next 20 years.

The average age of Qantas’ fleet of 280 aircraft is 8.3 years. It is continuously upgrading with more fuel-efficient transports.

In fleet renewal, Qantas has 78 A320neo aircraft on order with CFM International LEAP 1A engines. The A320neos have about a 15% lower fuel burn over current A320s.

In addition to the A320neos, Qantas has 15 Boeing Dreamliners on order and has taken delivery of 12 of an order of 20 Airbus A380s.

On regional routes, the Group has invested in Bombardier Q400s, which consume 35% less fuel than similar sized jet aircraft.

The Group has implemented fuel-efficiency improvements including improved flight procedures and optimized flight planning, RNP at 18 destinations within Australia and New Zealand and is continuing reduction in onboard auxiliary power units by replacing them with ground power leads.

Qantas Group is a signatory member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), a group of airlines and aviation companies working with scientific agencies and environmental non-government organizations to accelerate the commercialization of Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

The second part of its Environmental Priority package is Utilities and Resources, including electricity, water and waste. The Qantas Group has partnered with Closed Loop Recycling, introducing solutions such as washable utensils and 35% recycled paper cups, and less packaging.

The third priority is noise and includes the community. Qantas is a proponent of GPS-based Smart Tracking, which has been used at Canberra Airport to redesign flight paths to move noise away from residents living near the airport.

Eco-Partnership of the Year

Air Canada
& Airbus

The Air Canada and Airbus BioFuelNet Canada partnership will assess Canadian solutions for the production of sustainable alternative jet fuels with the long-term goal of supplying Air Canada.

The project, hosted by Montreal’s McGill University, will study different processes and raw materials available for alternative fuel production. Additionally, it will explore innovative new pathways and the overall sustainability of solutions.

The partnership was announced in May; the first assessment is expected by the end of 2013.

Air Canada has operated two flights with biofuel and on each occasion substantially reduced its emissions.

New technologies, such as alternative fuels, are one of the ways the airline industry plans to reduce its emissions to meet its target of carbon-neutral growth for 2020 and beyond.

Aviation biofuels are one of the most promising ways to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint, making air travel more environmentally friendly.

Airbus is a key player in the field, dedicated to finding the most sustainable fuel sources for the future of air travel. This partnership between Airbus, Air Canada and BioFuelNet Canada will ensure solutions are sustainable, affordable and technically suitable for all aircraft.

In June 2012, Airbus and Air Canada performed North America’s first “Perfect Flight” over international borders, cutting CO2 emissions by more than 40% compared to a regular flight. The commercial flight with passengers from Toronto, Canada to Mexico City, combined modern aircraft technology, sustainable alternative fuels, streamlined Air Traffic Management and best practice operations such as single-engine taxiing.

Eco-Technology of the Year


WheelTug’s electric drive system—two ultra-high-torque electric motors installed in the nose gear wheels of an aircraft, a motor drive electronics package and cockpit controls—provides full aircraft mobility on the ground without the use of jet engines for ground taxiing or tow-tugs for pushback from terminal gates.

By utilizing an aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU)—which normally air conditions the aircraft and starts its engines—the WheelTug unit requires just four pounds of fuel per minute, in contrast with the taxiing fuel-burn seen in narrowbody aircraft (approximately 17 lbs/min during single-engine taxiing; approximately 25 lbs/min during dual-engine taxiing). Simple calculations detail the difference WheelTug can make. For example, a single 30-minute taxi out of London Heathrow can burn 510 pounds of fuel. At $4 per gallon, a single aircraft’s taxi will thus burn over $2,000 in fuel. Multiply that by all of a carrier’s Heathrow departures in one day and the savings become clear. WheelTug estimates the system can save airlines up to $1.1 million per aircraft, per year.

Also significant to consider is the reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions resulting from an aircraft’s main engines having been powered down during both the taxi to the runway before takeoff, and the taxi to the terminal after landing. The WheelTug, and the overall concept of “E-Taxiing,” shows a practical way forward to realizing significant reduction of aircraft pollutants.

WheelTug is on its way toward making these efficiencies in fuel-use, time-management, traffic improvement, ground-crew job safety and environmental restoration a reality. The proof is in the customer list, which by June 2013 counted 573 delivery slots reserved by 11 airlines from Europe, America, the Middle East and the Far East. By using a business model that makes benefits of the system measurable, and by leasing all of its systems directly to airlines and aircraft leasing companies in return for a percentage of the agreed savings, WheelTug has leapt to the forefront of the E-Taxi movement.