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Carbon-Cutting Pilots

Introducing sustainability processes into your flight operations may seem complex and expensive, but the fact is, you can achieve real carbon-cutting benefits just by making a few relatively simple changes to the way you fly every day.

Sustainability has become a business aviation buzzword, but many sustainability banner wavers outside the industry appear to be unaware of the longtime leadership role business aviation has played in reducing carbon contrails.

“It’s unfortunate when business aviation is painted in a negative light when the reality is we’ve constantly introduced things to become more sustainable,” said Stewart D’Leon, NBAA director, environmental & technical operations. “The initial intent may have been to benefit the business, but the environmental benefits are still real.”

For example, winglets, high-bypass turbofan engines, GPS/RNAV routing, and other business aviation-led innovations have helped operators save untold amounts of money and unburned fuel. And business aviation started it all before carbon-cutting was cool.

“What we need to do now is to keep moving forward and enhancing those innovations with new efforts like SAF and more direct routing,” D’Leon added. “From a social perspective, it’s also essential for business aircraft operators to show their stakeholders, employees and customers they are good stewards of the environment.

“ICAO has put together its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to help regulate carbon emissions,” D’Leon said. “U.S. operators need to keep an eye on what’s happening internationally for two reasons: First, if you’re flying in Europe, you need to know how the requirements may impact your trip.

“Second is to review your operations and identify areas where you can make productive improvements now,” he continued. “This will help us navigate any potential future regulations in a way that helps the environment but doesn’t hinder our industry’s growth.”

It’s worth mentioning that emerging technologies, such as drones, are playing a key role in reducing business aviation carbon emissions. During the past decade, many companies have been replacing traditional fossil-fuel burning aircraft with battery-enabled drone technology for missions related to agriculture, infrastructure inspection and others. Also, electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft are expected to begin operations soon, with the potential to add an additional layer of clean-burning flight operations to the bizav sector.

Sustainability Starts Before the Engines Do

While sustainability has become synonymous with saving fuel, that’s just part of the equation.

“The first and most important step is having a way to measure your emissions,” said Patrick Müry, first officer and sustainability officer for Zurich-based CAT Aviation, AG. “But that doesn’t only mean flight emissions. Ground operations are part of it. There are tools and companies that can help assess an operation’s total emissions.

“Sustainable operations look a bit different from operator to operator, but everyone must do their part,” Müry added. “Look at your operations and see what you can do better.”

And sometimes, sustainability starts with the “little things.”

For example, John Benjamin, international captain for 3M, said they’ve moved away from gas-powered equipment for ground operations. In addition, they installed really big ceiling fans in their World War II-era hangars at their Minneapolis base and saw “substantially lower” heating costs.

“We’ve also asked crews to minimize using the aircraft’s APU during pre-flight. Over multiple legs, that can save a lot of fuel,” Benjamin added. “It’s just having an awareness of when you turn the system on and how you operate the airplane overall. Just that alone will help get you in the mindset of not only saving carbon but saving money.”

“Our dispatchers have received training for their flight planning tool to plan more efficient routes. By doing so, we have reduced fuel consumption on long-haul flights by around 1,000 pounds.”

Patrick Müry First Officer/Sustainability Officer, CAT Aviation, AG

The Plan Is Key

Of course, carbon-conscientious flight planning can play a tremendous role in enhancing your operation’s sustainability efforts.

“Our dispatchers have received training for their flight planning tool to plan more efficient routes,” Müry said. “By doing so, we have reduced fuel consumption on long-haul flights by around 1,000 pounds.”

A chief pilot and sustainability officer for a West Coast operator also shared one of his operation’s inflight fuel-saving tricks: requesting a continuous descent profile from ATC.

“It’s our practice to request them. With the throttles at idle through the approach, it creates impressive fuel efficiency,” he said. “It’s part of the Quick Reference Guide we’ve produced for our aircraft. It includes most of the city pairs we fly and leverages the aircraft’s AFM to show crews what speeds they should be flying to maximize efficiencies.”

“With our fleet of four aircraft, we are descending into our home airport around 700 times a year. If we can operate a flight idle descent, we can move the needle in lowering fuel use.”

Mike Whannell CAM, Chief Pilot for Jack Henry & Associates

Speaking of maximizing efficiency, your local ATC is another tool you can use.

“With our fleet of four aircraft, we are descending into our home airport around 700 times a year,” explained Mike Whannell, CAM, and chief pilot for Jack Henry & Associates.

“If we can operate a flight idle descent, we can move the needle in lowering fuel use. We’ve developed a great relationship with our local and regional controllers. It was just a matter of picking up the phone and explaining what we wanted to do and why,” Whannell said. “It doesn’t work all the time, but en route, we always call down the line and ask to stay as high as we can and give them a timeline with the request.”

Tablet apps such as ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and others have flight planning features that can also help reduce fuel burn during trips.

Speed, Fuel and Time

“Business aviation is a tool to save time,” the West Coast chief pilot added. “But when you fly fast, are you really saving enough time to outweigh the added fuel burn? What if you fly higher and a bit slower? We provide that kind of guidance for our crews, giving them the freedom to do the right thing on every flight.”

“We did a lot of analysis on our Gulfstreams, and when we pull back to .83 Mach (on the 550s) and .87 (on the 650), we can save a significant amount of fuel.”

John Benjamin International Captain for 3M

The speed-versus-fuel-versus-time equation has vexed flight crews since the beginning of business aviation. But even a slight pullback on the power levers can cut your fuel burn considerably.

“We did a lot of analysis on our Gulfstreams, and when we pull back to .83 Mach (on the 550s) and .87 (on the 650), we can save a significant amount of fuel,” Benjamin said. “A direct example is: On a Tokyo-to-STP [St. Paul Downtown Airport] leg on the G650, flying at .90 instead of 0.87 saves 20 minutes of flight time, but costs 14% more fuel (5,000 lbs. in this case).

“Now, you are putting more time on the engines, and sometimes that extra 20 minutes is important, but it’s worth looking at the options when planning,” said Benjamin. “Successful sustainability has many parts, and you have to understand them all.”

With a Little Help From Your Friends

Whether you have one airplane or a fleet of aircraft, everyone in the business aviation community wants to do their part to be a good steward of the environment. And while that’s the end goal, it’s nice to share your accomplishments with your stakeholders, employees and customers.

NBAA’s Sustainable Flight Department Accreditation Program has been created to help you do just that.

“The program has four independent accreditations that cover all the key areas: flight, operations, ground support and infrastructure,” said D’Leon. “It provides organizations with insights into what they can and should be doing to achieve their sustainability goals.”

“Our company was one of the first members to achieve all four areas of the NBAA’s Sustainable Flight Department Accreditation Program, and we are very proud of that,” said the West Coast chief pilot. “I would say to other NBAA members that even if you can’t do it now, it’s important to look at the program and implement as many of the elements as you possibly can.”

“Sustainable operations have to be a global effort,” Müry said. “Of course, there are local differences, which may make the path to sustainable operations look slightly different, but every player should do their part. In the end, there is not just one solution. The important thing is to use as many methods as possible to reduce carbon emissions.”

Review NBAA’s sustainability resources at

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