Top 10 Green airlines in the World. Find out who's winning the first position!

We know that airplanes are powered by fossil fuels more specifically by kerosene. You must know that kerosene has been utilized since the beginning of the 20th century thus replacing whale oil used for home heating and cooking.

It still remains very much in use in developing countries such as Pakistan where unintentional poisonings have been reported. But the main issues with kerosene are the PAH, the Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. Oh yes, this particular molecule category has a lovely name but it is highly toxic.

Firstly, we must know that the aviation industry represents approximately 2-3% of greenhouse gas emissions, which seems low but we must also be aware of the fact that air traffic doesn’t stop increasing and the aviation industry is the only one not subjected to any international regulation, to the European one yes, but not to a global one!

So who are the top green airlines?

Therefore please see below a list made by Brighter Report, being  the airlines referenced as the greenest globally based on various criteria: the airlines knowing that the most recent planes consume much less than the ones from 10-20 years ago, the number of passengers on board, the total number of seats (meaning seat density), flight distance (as the takeoff and landing consume much more fuel than the flight itself), and the freight share (meaning when planes transport also other items besides passenger luggage such as letters, parcels etc.).ryanair

1. Ryan Air - the unintendedl winner

The planes are always full, and seat density is fairly important (who doesn’t feel cramped on a RyanAir flight?). The weight of the equipment is thus rather low compared to the one from KLM flights for example; RyanAir, being a low-cost airline, has a very strict policy on luggage weight. Finally, they use relatively recent devices such as the Airbus A319. Yeap, this one wins as the top green airline!

cathay pacific
2. Cathay Pacific - the sharer carrier

They are not low-cost and they make long-haul flights. They rank second as green airline though, which is rather good. This Hong Kong airline has the newest fleet from the whole group which has a direct impact on the emissions if its aircrafts. The seat density is also optimized and Cathay Pacific is actively engaged in doing ‘freight share’ since 30% of its compartment is occupied by annexed cargos.


3. Easy Jet - the optimizer

Similar to RyanAir, EasyJet optimizes its costs and therefore its fuel consumption; luggage policy, full planes and seat density are more important for them than for traditional airlines. Their fleet is less recent that Cathay’s or RyanAir’s which explains its 3rd position as green airline in the ranking.


4. Continental Airlines - the good manager

Continental falls into 4th place on this green airlines ranking, not because of their sustainable development policy, but simply because their long-haul nonstop flights are often very full. They also do a bit of ‘freight share’, but their fleet is not the most recent one and the seat density is relatively normal. Globally, they are better than the others with regards to managing fuel and filling up their planes. We can consider the two airlines as being almost equally ranked as green airlines as they merged in 2012.

united airlines

5. United Airlines - the pioneer

United Airlines has recently renewed a part of its fleet with more recent devices which are more environmentally friendly. For the rest, they are pretty similar to Continental with the exception that they are somewhat less efficient in ‘freight share’ and in filling up their planes. Launched in 2013, the United Airlines Eco-Skyes program introduces the various strategies of the airline for reducing CO2 emissions. That includes the search of alternative fuels, the development of partnerships and sponsoring (for example 50,000$ are donated each year to environmental NGOs) and the setup of services such as Bandwagon (that allows travelers to connect in order to share a taxi to go to the airport).

I must admit I was surprised to read they started utilizing biofuel in 2015. They even plan on reducing CO2 emissions by 50% thanks to this fuel called AltAir. So maybe in the future this airlines will rank top in the green airlines ranking!


6. Jetblue - the efficient player

Another American low-cost, mostly regional but that has a relatively recent fleet, flights on optimized distances and does a bit of ‘freight share’. Just to make a comparison, someone flying Quantas between New York and Los Angeles will have a carbon footprint 3 times more significant that somebody flying JetBlue.


7. KLM - the follower

With a relatively old fleet of planes and flights that aren’t always full, KLM ranks only 7th in this hierarchy. But the good thing is that the Air-France/KLM group invests quite a lot in R&D and Air-France has promised to reduced CO2 emissions by 500,000 tons until 2020 (Plan Weight & Fuel) which corresponds roughly to 10% of its total emissions (approximately 5,000,000 tons annually).  But there’s an investment to become part of the top green airlines.

american airlines

8. American Airlines - Not a triple AAA airline

On average, American Airlines performs better compared to a lot of the others but it’s not the best student in the class. Planes are relatively recent (as much as those from JetBlue for example), but on all other criteria AA could do better. They have recently signed a partnership with the Dallas Airport to reduce their carbon footprint.

delta airlines

9. Delta - the nurkle

The airline is far from excellent regarding the carbon footprint of its passengers. And even its website communicates very little about responsible and sustainable development. I guess this is still not a priority for them.

alaska airlines

10. Alaska Airlines - the diligent airline

Alaska Airlines is fairly transparent about its activities and its carbon emissions. We find all the related reports on their website. Although at the bottom of the ranking, I want to highlight their initiative. The classification was made in 2011, and as a result thereof,

Alaska Airlines decided to act because of an environmental program being set up in 2012. What is interesting is that the program doesn’t only propose to reduce its carbon footprint based on the above mentioned criteria by Brighter Planet, but also on other criteria such as passenger waste management, supplier transportation and the resources utilized on board of their planes. Their goal is to reduce 20% of their CO2 emissions by 2020 and to increase their biofuel utilization.

They bought more than 50 planes latest edition in 2012. Their program is detailed here. I personally find it very interesting and I think that it is the only airline that has such a detailed, comprehensive program covering all the aspects of a truly environmental aviation policy.

infographic airbus future of aviation

Surprisingly, low-cost airlines are amongst the greenest ones! But they are not the ones that invest the most in a more environmentally friendly development. We must also bear in mind that the classification is from 4 years ago and that certain airlines such as Unites Airlines or Air-France/KLM or even more so Alaska Airlines are investing heavily in order to ensure a greener future for their businesses and for us travelers. However, it is our responsibility to choose the right companies and to encourage their ecological initiatives. If it comes down to choosing between Delta and United as green airlines for example, I will definitely select United. Maybe all of this will encourage other airlines to mobilize themselves despite the absence of an international regulation! Let’s go green airlines!

 Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu