easyJet makes carbon-free pledge and plans electric aircraft research

easyJet has pledged to become the first major carrier to operate net-zero carbon flights at the same time as signing an agreement with Airbus to research opportunities and challenges surrounding hybrid and electric aircraft.

easyJet has unveiled plans to become the first major airline to offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all flights across its route network.

The UK low-cost carrier said it would offset all carbon emissions from fuel used on its flights from 19 November 2019 through schemes involving forestry, renewable and community-based projects. It has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus to jointly research hybrid and electric aircraft.

“We acknowledge that offsetting is only an interim measure until other technologies become available to radically reduce the carbon emissions of flying, but we want to take action on carbon now,” said easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren.

“People have a choice in how they travel and people are now thinking about the potential carbon impact of different types of transport. But many people still want to fly and if people choose to fly we want to be one of the best choices they can make.”

This collaboration supports the work already underway with easyJet partner and US start-up Wright Electric, which will continue alongside the Airbus collaboration.

Wright Electric has set itself the challenge of building an all-electric commercial passenger jet capable of flying passengers across easyJet’s UK and European network within a decade. 

The aviation industry has set a target of a 50 per cent cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. Growth in CO2 emissions from 2020 will be offset using the CORSIA scheme set up by ICAO.

Lundgren said the aviation industry has to “reinvent itself as quickly as it can”. 

“This is the reason why we have been supporting Wright Electric since 2017 and are working with Airbus, and Safran on new technologies,” he added.

“We also need governments to support efforts to decarbonise aviation. In particular they must reform aviation taxes to incentivise efficient behaviour, fund research and development in new technology and ensure that early movers such as easyJet are not penalised.”

Speaking in Berlin at IATA’s Wings of Change Europe conference, the organisation’s director general Alexandre de Juniac also argued for more support from governments.

He said the industry is “on the right track” when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions but urged the EU to adopt a regulatory framework to encourage more production of sustainable aviation fuels.

“The Single European Sky has been on the drawing board for 25 years,” he said. “It offers the chance to cut emissions in Europe by 5-10 percent. Why is this not the number one priority for Europe's governments? Instead, they waste energy debating how more and more taxes and charges should be loaded onto passengers.

“The latest example is right here in Germany, where it is proposed that the existing passenger tax be almost doubled. It is completely the wrong approach.

“People are rightly sceptical about environmental taxation. They know it isn't spent on environmental programs. That's why they expect governments to encourage investment in sustainable fuels and green technology.”

De Juniac added that the enemy isn't flying - it is carbon. “Government policies should aim to help people fly sustainably,” he said.

In addition to unveiling its carbon offsetting intentions and research plans with Airbus, easyJet posted its financial results for the year to 30 September 2019. Total revenue increased by 8.3 percent to £6.39bn, compared with a year earlier, while headline profit before tax dropped 26 percent to £427m.

Capacity increased by 10.3 percent during the period, but load factor decreased by 1.4 percentage points to 91.5 percent. easyJet carried 96.1 million passengers in the 12 months to the end of September, a rise of 8.6 percent.

The airline said forward bookings for the first half of the 2020 financial year are "reassuring". Offsetting carbon emissions from the fuel used for all flights is expected to cost £25m. 

Before the end of this year, the company plans to launch easyJet Holidays in the UK, offering beach and city breaks. 

Lundgren said: "We are now able to offer our customers more than 100 amazing beach and city holiday destinations, pairing Europe’s best short-haul flight network with more than 5,000 of Europe’s best hotels. 

"We believe there is a gap in the market for a modern, relevant and flexible business for today’s consumer."