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Delta flies more than 5,000 flights a day all over the world. And all that flying can have an impact on the environment. In fact, jet fuel accounts for more than 98 percent of Delta’s carbon footprint.

That’s why Delta’s sustainability team and the Executive Environmental Leadership Council continuously explore innovative ways to minimize the airline’s carbon footprint. From the weight each aircraft carries to the way pilots park a plane, every aspect of Delta’s operation is examined for opportunities to enhance sustainability.

Christine Boucher was recently appointed as Delta’s Managing Director – Global Environment and Sustainability. She explained that for Delta, “sustainability means meeting growth and profitability goals through business practices that minimize our environmental impact – being more fuel efficient is a big part of that. Using less fuel is a win-win for the business financially and environmentally.”

Here’s a look at some of the things Delta does to be a more carbon conscious company:

Fueling a greener fleet

Delta’s unique fleet is an important component of how the airline has strengthened its financial performance, helping to ensure the company can be profitable in good times and bad. Fuel burn per available seat mile is down 6 percent since 2008.

Delta is hard at work phasing out some of the airline’s less fuel-efficient planes, like the Boeing 747 which will be retired by 2017. Ongoing up-gauging has also eliminated 60 percent of the 50-seater product. The airline is continuing to invest in more fuel-efficient aircraft, like the Airbus A321.

Saving fuel on the ground

From gate to gate, Delta people continue to innovate, saving an incremental 11 million gallons of fuel annually through improved arrival and departure procedures, onboard weight reduction and more.

Delta encourages the use of ground power air and electricity so pilots can turn off the auxiliary engine and limit fuel burn. Additionally, flight attendants ask that shades be lowered when landing in warm stations to conserve energy needed to cool the plane.

Before takeoff, flight groups work to target the optimal amount of fuel for the plane to reach the gate at destination, eliminating unnecessary fuel weight. Pilots are then encouraged to use a single engine taxi to limit fuel use and utilize reduced power takeoffs when possible.

Flying with fuel efficiency in mind

Delta’s network strategy makes optimal use of aircraft, taking into account fuel efficiency and giving fuel-efficient aircraft more utilization.

Winglets, wingtip devices that reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency by 3 percent, can be supported by nearly 75 percent of Delta’s fleet. Since 2009 Delta has retrofitted more than 200 aircraft with winglets; 98 percent of Delta’s eligible fleet is now equipped.

In the air, streamlined flight paths and more fuel-efficient aircraft, including those outfitted with winglets, help to improve efficiency. On descent Delta works closely with the Air Traffic Organization to implement optimized profile descents, allowing planes to descend without leveling off.

Mitigating carbon emissions

Despite these reductions, the nature of burning jet fuel means some environmental impact is unavoidable. That’s why Delta led the U.S. aviation industry in 2007 by launching a carbon offset program, allowing Delta passengers to track and compensate for the environmental impact of their flight by investing in projects that produce measurable benefits to the atmosphere, like wind energy. The airline is matching customer and employee offsets up to $25,000 for the month of April.

In 2013 and 2014 Delta met carbon-neutral growth goals, meaning that despite an increase in flying, the airline maintained 2012 emissions levels through fuel efficiency process and fleet changes, as well as the purchase of carbon offsets.

With major improvements to fuel efficiency over the past decade, Delta isn’t stopping. The airline is innovating and exploring technology and fleet additions that would take fuel efficiency to the next level over the next five years, all while maintaining Delta’s high return on invested capital and investment grade balance sheet.

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