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Inside Tracks

Is flying becoming more sustainable?

We are all very aware that flying is not the most ecological way to travel; however, it always comes up trumps for its speed and time efficiency compared to other methods. Want to be on the slopes by lunchtime? A plane makes it possible when you would still be speeding through the French countryside if you took the more ecological train.


Herein lies the problem. We have become so accustomed to this pace of life and it is hard to return to a slower one. Just as we now find it frustrating waiting a week for a parcel when Amazon Prime means that it is on our doorstep the next day, switching to more ecological methods of travel that take considerably longer is going to be frustrating for many.


So what if flying was no longer as bad for the environment? While it would be a step too far suggesting that it is soon to be carbon neutral, for we are certainly a long way off that. There are ways for us as consumers to counteract the effects of our travel. Planting trees to offset carbon is a tried and tested tool by the aviation industry and favoured by the consumer as well. On paper it seems to be an efficient tool; however, the time lag of the carbon offset means that is is hard to calculate its efficacy. Regardless of inaccuracies it still provides a token to neutralise the environmental cost of the flight.


Enter sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). A fuel that is low in the use of fossil fuel resources in its manufacturing where carbon is re-extracted from existing sustainable biomass or gasses and converted into the fuel. This is much more environmentally friendly than traditional fuel which is refined from crude oil. It has also been seen to reduce CO2emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil fuels. As with all new technologies the cost of this innovative production is far dearer than usual method, as much as three to five times more expensive, and there are far fewer refineries who can produce SAF in adequate quantities. Therefore, it is not until this production is scaled up and the relative costs go down that it can be deemed a viable solution for all.


In a pioneering project SWISS are the first commercial airline to use SAF in its flights departing Switzerland from July 2021. To make this financially possible without raising their prices for all customers, they are offering the option of using Compensaid to offset the additional cost. Compensaid calculate the CO2 emissions of the booked flight and the customer can then offset these by purchasing a corresponding volume of SAF. This SAF is then bought and used by SWISS in their airport fuelling system contributing to flights.


Interestingly SWISS are giving the option of how customers would like to offset their CO2 between purchasing SAF or contributing to their Climate Project portfolio. The difference between them is that it costs 95€ for an immediate offset through the purchase of SAF (based on a return flight Heathrow to Zurich of 179kg of CO2), or to compensate for carbon emissions in the long run (up to 10 years) it is only 3€59! SWISS therefore offer a sliding scale between the two depending on how quickly you would like your carbon to be offset. This gives customers the freedom to choose the offset timeline they would like according to their budget. Whilst it still relies on a good proportion of passengers to take the option of offsetting their carbon, with a price for all it does become more accessible. Overall this is a very good initiative which we hope that other airlines will follow shortly to allow us all to do our bit in the hope of a more sustainable future for air travel meaning that we can continue to make connections and explore the world at our current rate without the negative side effects that it presently causes.