UK low-cost airline EasyJet could be flying electric passenger planes on short haul routes within the next 10 years after it announced a new partnership with US electric jet pioneers Wright Electric. However, while waiting for the mass-scale commercial use of such technologies to be materialised EasyJet will fund forest conservation, renewable energy and community-based projects to offset fuel use.
Airlines have been coming increasingly under fire for not doing enough to tackle climate change. Aviation currently accounts for around two per cent of all global CO2 emissions, but the sector's share of global emissions is forecasted to grow sharply.
Facing mounting public concern over the environmental impact of air travel, Easyjet said the move to offset flights would make it the first 'zero carbon' airline in the world. As a buget airline, Easyjet's per passenger emissions are lower than most of its rivals, thanks to its ability to squeeze more people onto each flight. Now the airline say they will spend £25m a year on offsetting the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of its flights.
"Climate change is an issue for all of us," said CEO Johan Lundgren. "At EasyJet we are tackling this challenge head on by choosing to offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of our flights starting today. In doing so we are committing to operating net-zero carbon flights across our network - a world first by any major airline."
It has calculated that it emits 3.157kg of CO2 for every kilogram of aviation fuel used, and said it will start paying into the offset fund from today. Its offsetting providers are EcoAct and FirstClimate.
However, the company acknowledged that offsetting is only an interim measure while the industry hunts for a viable technology to deliver low-carbon flight.
Easyjet has signed an agreement with manufacturer Airbus to work on a joint research project for hybrid planes, and has backed electric plane firm Wright Electric in its bid to produce an all-electric plane for short haul flights.
Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of Forum for the Future, said that EasyJet's move was "exciting", but added that carbon offsetting could only be a bridge to future technological developments.
"It will be important to seek out each and every way of reducing carbon emissions. Beyond that, the whole industry needs to come together more effectively to decarbonise this critical sector just as quickly as possible," he said.