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British Airways demonstrated its progress on creating a 'Perfect Flight' using fuel made with used cooking oil as airlines race to reduce carbon emissions

Business Insider logo Business Insider 16/9/2021 trains@insider.com (Taylor Rains)
a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: BA Better World A320neo British Airways © British Airways BA Better World A320neo British Airways
  • British Airways demonstrated a "Perfect Flight" from Heathrow to Glasgow using sustainable aviation fuel.
  • The journey replicated a 2010 flight to show how much the airline has reduced its CO2 emissions over 11 years.
  • Airlines are responding to the industry pollution problem as "flight shaming" gains popularity.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

British Airways demonstrated how it is moving toward a "Perfect Flight" using sustainable jet fuel and renewable energy amid scrutiny from environmental activists.

On Wednesday, BA flight 1476 took off from London's Heathrow Airport on a 58-minute journey to Glasgow Airport in Scotland. The "Perfect Flight" demonstration used sustainable aviation fuel provided by BP, making it the airline's first flight powered directly by SAF.

The journey replicated a flight done in 2010 from Heathrow to Edinburgh that used an older aircraft with fewer fuel-saving capabilities. Wednesday's flight demonstrated how far the airline has come in the past 11 years to decarbonize aviation, which amounted to a 62% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the 2010 flight.

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The short hop to Glasgow was operated on a specially liveried Airbus A320neo aircraft painted in partnership with Airbus, which symbolizes BA's Better World program aimed at reducing its carbon footprint. The plane is the quietest and most fuel-efficient short-haul jet in the airline's fleet, emitting 20% less CO2 compared to older generation aircraft, according to BA.

Heathrow Airport supported BA's Perfect Flight by providing 100% renewable energy to power the carrier's electric Mototok vehicles that pushed back the aircraft. According to Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye, the airport has been buying 100% renewable energy since 2017, has invested seven million pounds in installing electric vehicle charging ports on the airport, and is converting 90% of its small vehicle fleet to electric.

According to BA, the airline practiced a number of fuel-saving techniques for the historic flight, like taxiing on one engine, preprogramming climb speed, and working with NATS to maintain a continuous climb and descent from Heathrow to Glasgow to avoid leveling off.

BA's Perfect Flight demonstrates its response to both the climate crisis and backlash from activists who say the airline industry is severely impacting the environment. Since 2019, carriers have been battling the "flight shaming" movement, putting pressure on airlines to make operational changes to promote sustainability.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg played a part in the popularization of flight shaming and the subsequent drop in the number of commercial flyers in Sweden, according to the Los Angeles Times. Thunberg has been vocal about the airline industry's role in the climate crisis and her message has spread throughout Europe and slowly into the US, creating tension between activists and airlines, according to Vox.

Airline executives like Air France CEO Anne Rigail and Emirates President Tim Clark said the anti-flying movement is the industry's biggest challenge. According to the Air Transport Action Group, aviation accounts for around 2% of the world's carbon emissions.

"We [in the aviation industry] aren't doing ourselves any favours by chucking billions of tons of carbon into the air. It's got to be dealt with," Clark told the BBC in 2019. "I quite like Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg for having brought a real focus to the issue."

Carriers are recognizing the industry's pollution problem, but balancing the need to grow their business while also being mindful of their carbon footprint is challenging, but it isn't stopping them from going green.

European carrier KLM CityHopper showed its support for decarbonization by launching a "Fly Responsibly" campaign in 2019 where it encouraged people to avoid flying if they can, and instead take alternate modes of transportation, like the train. Meanwhile, in the US, Delta Air Lines committed one billion to become carbon neutral by 2030 and both United and American have invested in electric aircraft.

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