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World leaders in Paris for the Conference of Parties 21 are expected to agree on a landmark deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While a separate agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization is responsible for addressing international aviation emissions.

This focus on climate change sets the stage for ongoing conversations around Delta and the aviation industry’s environmental sustainability commitment.

The aviation industry contributes 3.4 percent of global domestic product, while being responsible for 2 percent of total global emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Innovative programs and efficiency improvements have successfully separated emissions from traffic growth as more and more passengers take to the skies. Additionally, the world’s airlines have cut the amount of CO2 emitted per passenger per kilometer in half since 1990.

IATA has put in place three growth goals to drive sustainability in aviation:

  • Short-Term: Improving fuel efficiency an average of 1.5 percent annually from 2009 through 2020.
  • Mid-Term: Capping net CO2 emissions from 2020, meaning that while air travel will continue to rise, aviation’s overall climate impact will plateau in 2020 through the use of a global market-based measure to offset the rise in emissions.
  • Long-Term: Cutting 2005 CO2 emissions levels in half by 2050.

What is Delta doing?

“We take climate change seriously and are making improvements across our operations – both on the ground and in the air - to improve fuel efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Steve Tochilin, Delta General Manager, Environmental Sustainability. “To drive toward IATA’s short-term goal, on essentially every flight there are a range of carbon-saving procedures and technologies in place to reduce fuel burn and emissions through technology, navigation or operational actions.”

From gate to gate these initiatives include:

  • Before the flight: Groups work to target the optimal amount of fuel for the flight to reach the gate at destination. This ensures that aircraft do not carry additional, unnecessary fuel throughout the flight that increases weight and thus the amount of fuel burnt.
  • On taxi and takeoff: Pilots are encouraged to use single engine taxi to limit fuel use.  They implement fuel saving measures during takeoff as well, utilizing reduced power takeoffs when possible.
  • 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 and supports the Air Traffic Organization in implementing optimized profile descents, where possible, which require less fuel upon landing.
  • At the gate: 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 in warm stations or airports Delta serves to conserve energy needed to cool the plane.

Delta is exploring opportunities in the carbon offsets market to meet the mid-term goal mentioned above. To get experience, Delta capped emissions at 2012 levels by purchasing carbon offsets in 2013 and 2014.

Long-term, Delta continues to evaluate the company’s processes and procedures with a focus on continuously evolving the airline’s sustainability.