We at Brighter Planet regularly come across rankings of green airlines, but it’s not always easy to tell which metrics they’re based on. Like anything else in the climate change arena, if you want to cut through the rhetoric and hand waving, you have to go right to the data. Naturally, that’s just what we did.
We took 9.2 million flight records from a government database and ran them through our climate emissions engine. (Fun fact: this processing, including cross-tabulation and indexing, takes about 15 minutes on a standard household computer.) We analyzed these flight segments accounting for over a dozen characteristics, including aircraft size, seat class and pitch, engine type, fuel efficiency (unlike automobiles, this involves a different third-degree polynomial function for each representative aircraft model), capacity, freight payload, and revenue.
Our goal for this analysis was to determine how much *fuel* was used by each passenger. From a climate standpoint, this is the key metric: since we know how much carbon is in each liter of jet fuel, we can deduce exactly how much greenhouse gas impact each passenger is responsible for.
The results were surprising.
Continental, one of the big-five “old guard” airlines, ended up in second place; impressive considering a legacy fleet and timetable. Virgin America’s chief Richard Branson, a vocal climate activist, led his airline to a respectable third place.
This is the first post in a series we’ll be doing about a new era of
climate action, one that is driven by data and values hard information
over corporate slogans and press releases. Have an idea for us?
Something to investigate? Shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.