How New Zealand's airline industry promotes sustainable air travel

How New Zealand's airline industry promotes sustainable air travel

Air travel is an important part of life for a growing number of Kiwis. We travel to see loved ones, to conduct business and to see the world. Last year around 7 million people, residents and visitors, flew between New Zealand and more than 40 destinations globally. In fact, air travel has also become critical to our economy’s growth. Visitors flying to New Zealand in 2018 spent nearly $15bn and the airline industry here employs thousands of Kiwis.

This growth is also driving an increase in aviation fuel used, on-board meals eaten, toilet stops taken, and airport infrastructure required. Think fossil fuels, recycling, waste disposal, ground transportation, land for runways, terminals, maintenance facilities and shopping centres, and drinking and waste water.

So, what do Kiwis who want fly sustainably need to know?

Air travel has a carbon footprint and the industry is facing up to its responsibilities

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), international aviation is responsible for approximately 1.3% of global CO2 emissions and they aren’t allocated to any country.

The good news is many countries, including New Zealand, Australia, China and the United States, have signed up to the voluntary Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), to offset the carbon emissions of aircraft based in their countries. 

It means BARNZ’s member airlines are already monitoring their emissions under the CORSIA arrangements and will soon be in a position to offset them. The CORSIA goals are ambitious: (i) carbon neutral growth from 2020 and (2) reduce emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.

Airlines are operating in an ever more sustainable and responsible manner

Our members have changed how they work to minimise their impact on the environment and are continually exploring ways to improve how they do things.

1. Fuel efficient aircraft are on the rise

Aircraft design improvements have led to major gains in reducing carbon emissions – aircraft entering today’s fleets are 80% more fuel efficient than those used in the 1960s.  Manufacturers are competing to deliver ever-more efficient aircraft.

New technologies, designs and materials are being used to improve the engine efficiency and aerodynamics of aircraft. The aim: to help make each flight more fuel efficient and reduce CO2 emissions.

There are winglets to increase airplane performance, flexible navigation systems that take advantage of the weather conditions and continuous climb and descent operations that enable aircraft to decrease fuel burn, global gas emissions, noise and fuel costs.

According to @PreScouter, the industry is already using 3D printing technology, carbon fibre materials, and shape memory alloys to reduce aircraft weight. 

Plus, they are working on commercial aircraft designs with @Nasa to substantially decrease the aircraft noise, emissions, and fuel burns associated with commercial air travel.

2. Carbon offsets are available for airline customers

Travellers have increasing choice on ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their trips. Many airlines offer their passengers the ability to purchase carbon credits to offset their portion of the carbon emissions generated by their flight. These credits are generated by carbon reduction projects, such as those offered by ClimateCare.  When booking flights, look out for the option to offset carbon emissions.

3. They are providing sustainable goods and services

Many airlines have policies in place to ensure they source environmentally sustainable goods and services from like-minded suppliers. For example, they only engage with suppliers who have environmentally responsible business practices, who comply with laws and regulations on the protection and preservation of the environment, and who have transparency and traceability in their supply chain.

4. Biofuels are on the up

According to, carriers around the world are increasingly using sustainable alternative fuels (SAF) in commercial flights. Research shows that using the equivalent quantity of some alternative fuels could reduce CO2 emissions by around 80% compared to the jet fuel they replace.

5. Reduction of waste, energy and water usage is a big focus

Airlines are looking at ways to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill. Some examples include:

  • using plastic-free packaging for headsets and blankets and bio-degradable cups and sustainable paper packaging
  • recovering items like plastic cups and cutlery for re-use or recycling
  • new inflight trolleys to sort rubbish from recycling early on further reduces the amount of waste going to landfill.

Airports are also doing their bit. Adopting water and conservation strategies here and overseas, in an effort to reduce water usage per passenger, conserve potable water, increase recycling and manage emissions across the airport’s activities.

6. They take an active approach to managing Aircraft noise

Many of our members, and the airports they fly to, take an approach to noise  management that is recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the body responsible for setting and recommending aircraft noise standards and practices. For example:

  • Certified noise measurement locations and compliance with noise standards
  • Improved flight paths using satellite technology to provide aircraft more direct routes to the airport and away from population dense areas – reducing both noise and carbon emissions
  • Have well-planned and managed land-use policies for (future) residential developments
  • Have noise abatement operational procedures in place, like engine run up restrictions and preferred runways or flight paths, to minimise noise
  • As a last resort, introduce operating restrictions on aircraft, such as night curfews.
So, what is BARNZ doing in New Zealand to help airlines be more sustainable?

As New Zealand’s airline industry body, the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ), supports continued, sustainable growth for the airline industry. We have already negotiated two contracts to help our members operate more sustainably here and to help them meet their individual businesses’ sustainability goals.

1. Ohakea flight diversion agreement between BARNZ and the Royal New Zealand Airforce 
  • This has saved nearly 160,000 tonnes of carbon since 2011. That’s the equivalent of 15,500 fewer cars on the road for each of those years, or 124,000 cars off the road since 2011.
  • The agreement means that aircraft of participating airlines can carry less fuel because their diversion airport is closer. On average this saves 100kg of fuel per hour of flying time, so they burn less fuel and have lower carbon emissions.
2. OCS Recycling agreement negotiated by BARNZ for our members
  • This has seen over 1.1 million kg of cabin waste recycled since 2015.
  • Prior to this agreement ‘cabin waste’ was sterilised and sent to landfill to meet NZ’s strict biosecurity requirements. @OCS now recycles almost 50% of cabin waste, redirecting around 290,000kg per annum from landfill to recycling centres.
3. New Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) for planes flying into our airports

BARNZ works with @Airways New Zealand, @Christchurch International Airport, @Wellington Airport and @Auckland Airport to introduce new satellite-based flight paths for approaches and departures. Aircraft will be able to take a more direct route into and out of the airport, fly a quieter approach profile and avoid population-dense areas. The knock-on effect of these new flight paths is a reduction in fuel burn, carbon and noise emissions on a daily basis. More are being developed.

The Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ) is the voice of the airline industry in New Zealand. Our 29 airline members connect New Zealand to the world and are critical to its economic growth. We want to create an environment for them here that fosters continued, sustainable growth.