Although aviation is a hard-to-decarbonise industry, airlines need to acknowledge their impact, take action to minimise greenhouse-gas emissions today, and start committing to ambitious goals that may take decades to achieve, Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability for Delta Air Lines, said in an interview with Flightpath host Joel Makower.

“Investors are looking at companies and saying, ‘You have a significant risk because of the climate transition that's in front of you. I want to know, in a transparent way, what is that risk? How much quantifiably is that going to impact your business? What is your plan for it?’ Investors are saying, ‘I don't know where to invest anymore because I don't know who's going to make it or not make it through this transition.’,” DeLuca said in an interview with Joel Makower, Editor of Greenbiz.com.

“Coming out of the pandemic, as we're starting to rebuild our workforce and hiring new people, we've got that next generation coming that cares about the environment. Not to mention that everyone else has just been through this profound impact from a pandemic that has caused everyone to step back and say, "What am I doing with my life? And what do I really care about?",” DeLuca said.

Pioneering sustainability in commercial aviation

Delta has been leading the charge. In 2012, the carrier, based in Atlanta, Georgia, committed to capping its emissions at that year’s level. It followed that up in 2020 with a pledge to be carbon neutral. It has moved eagerly to secure supplies of sustainable aviation fuel, increased use of carbon offsets, partnered with the Science Based Targets initiative that helps companies set emissions goals, and joined the LEAF Coalition to address deforestation.

When the pandemic grounded aviation fleets around the world, Delta seized the opportunity to accelerate retirement of older jets, pulling 200 aircraft out of service, while buying new models that have 20-25% better fuel efficiency, DeLuca said.

“We're laser-focused on the 98 percent of the emissions that come from jet fuel,” DeLuca said. “That is really where the challenge lies for our industry.”

Sustainable aviation fuel – which can reduce lifecycle emissions by up to 80% because it can be made from biological sources like food waste or inedible crops rather than extracted from the ground – is scaling rapidly, from less than 0.1% of global jet fuel consumption just a couple years ago, to an expected 10% in 2030 and as much as 65% by 2050, DeLuca said.

Investing in the future

Looking farther ahead, DeLuca said Delta is keen to partner on promising technologies like aircraft powered by electricity or hydrogen, as well as pulling carbon directly out of the air and storing it underground or recycling it into synthetic fuels.

“Where Delta will become more involved going forward is going to be on the research and development and the investing to make sure that we are able to scale clean technology for our industry in the future,” DeLuca said. “Those are the things that will be coming in the second part of our journey to net-zero. But all of them are within reason to scale and most models have each one of them playing a part as we go forward.”

Sustainability extends beyond climate to broader issues of social equality and being a force for good, DeLuca said. She added that for aviation that means not only protecting habitats and biodiversity but ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of aviation for generations to come.

“If you really step back, the airline industry is built upon trust with our consumers, and purpose. We aren't just flying airplanes, we connect people to people, people to places, people to new opportunities. And so there's a responsibility that comes with what we do every day,” DeLuca said.

“Right now we are all faced with this looming crisis, this threat. We hear it every day in the news, our kids talk to us about it, our neighbors talk to us about it,” DeLuca said. “My number one most important thing is that no traveler ever has to choose between seeing the world and saving the world.

Making aviation more sustainable: a conversation with Amelia DeLuca

Flightpath host, Joel Makower, recently spoke with Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, to discuss the urgent need to decarbonize aviation and how Delta has made sustainability an integral part of its business strategy.

 

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