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Norwegian 787 Dreamliner (photo: © Thorbjørn Brunander Sund,

Norwegian praised as “carbon gap” surges

The carbon intensity gap between the most and least efficient transatlantic carriers is increasing.

A new study released this week has found that the carbon intensity gap between the most and least efficient transatlantic carriers is increasing.

The findings by the International Council on Clean Transportation show the gap widened from 51% in 2014 to 63% in 2017.

Overall, the fuel efficiency of transatlantic flights has improved by an average of 1% per year, below the industry’s climate goals. Most of the improvements are attributable to the use of new aircraft with lower fuel burn, like those used by Norwegian, WOW air and SWISS.

The study analysed 20 airlines making nonstop flights between the United States and Europe. The industry average fuel efficiency improved from 33 passenger kilometres per litre of fuel in 2014 to 34 pax-km/L.

Norwegian ranked first in overall fuel efficiency among the transatlantic carriers. The fuel efficiency of the least efficient carrier, British Airways, worsened by 4% compared to its 2014 ranking.

Major improvers in the ranking include Virgin Atlantic (30 to 35 pax-km/L) and Aeroflot (30 to 33 pax-km/L) – improvements linked to the growing use of fuel-efficient aircraft, the Boeing 787-9 for Virgin and the Boeing 777-300ER for Aeroflot.

Driving efficiency
The report also assesses key drivers of the observed fuel efficiency gap between airlines. The underlying fuel burn of an airline’s fleet was found to be the most important driver overall, explaining about 40% of the variation in fuel efficiency, followed by seating density.

The importance of seating density as a driver for fuel efficiency has increased since 2014 due to the expansion of low-cost carriers that operate transatlantic flights with higher seat counts and a lower percentage of premium seats compared to competitors.

“This work shows that carriers have a variety of tools to reduce fuel use and carbon emissions,” says Brandon Graver, the study’s lead author. “Airlines like Norwegian, which invests in new, fuel-efficient aircraft, and carriers like WOW air and SWISS that maximise payload on a given flight, all flew efficiently in 2017.”

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