Data from Lufthansa Cargo shows that its carbon dioxide emissions stayed at 0.67 kg/freight tonne kilometres (kg/tkm) from 2018 to 2020, despite the fact that in 2020 the Corona pandemic brought many of its operations to a standstill and there was a fall in volumes of over a quarter. From 2019 to 2020 carbon monoxide (CO) emissions increased by 8.1% from 0.37 to 0.40 g/tkm and UHC emissions increased by 10.8% from 0.037 to 0.041 g/tkm. However, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions decreased by 2% from 3.5 to 3.4 g/tkm.

According to the International Transport Forum, whilst air cargo volumes over 2020 declined with economic activity, freight-only flights increased, with some passenger aircraft converted to carry freight to cover for cargo that is usually carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft. Supply of medical materials and equipment was critically dependent on air freight during the crisis. The volume of pharmaceutical products carried doubled. Air freight capacity is still well below 2019 levels and with airlines predicting lower passenger traffic until 2023 or 2024, the freighter conversion market will continue to grow.

Lufthansa Cargo has pointed to a number of initiatives that will help it to minimize the impact of flying on the environment. It is reducing carbon emissions on take-off, in flight and on landing and in 2022 it will roll out AeroSHARK on the entire freighter fleet – a surface film that mimics the fine structure of a shark’s skin, optimizing the aerodynamics on flow-related parts of the aircraft, so that less fuel is needed overall. For the entire fleet of ten aircraft, Lufthansa claims that this translates to annual savings of around 3,700 tons of kerosene and just under 11,700 tons of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of 48 individual freight flights from Frankfurt to Shanghai.

At the end of November 2020, Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker carried out a CO2-neutral freight routing which was completely covered by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). SAF is obtained from biomass and the aim is to use it to entirely replace fossil fuels in the future. According to Lufthansa, it reduces emissions by up to 80% vs standard aviation fuel.

Lufthansa Cargo customers can check the CO2 emissions of their shipment’s transport during the booking process with an online booking portal, then they can offset them in the future. The Lufthansa platform Compensaid calculates the market-based surcharge in comparison to fossil kerosene. Customers willing to pay this surcharge can use it to cover their individual kerosene consumption with the climate-neutral fuel. The Lufthansa Group continue to pay the basic rate for the kerosene. The SAF purchased as part of the offsetting process will be deployed on Lufthansa flights within a period of six months.

Lufthansa Cargo is of course not the only airline trying to get a handle on its emissions. AF-KLM Cargo has launched a programme allowing customers to invest in SAF in a bid to help boost production. KLM, with its partners, is building a SAF-dedicated plant to produce its own fuel, scheduled to open in 2023 in the north of the Netherlands. IAG Cargo, the cargo division of International Airlines Group, completed its first sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) charter chain of 16 flights from Stuttgart to Atlanta in June this year.

In summary, whilst efforts are being made to reduce the air cargo carbon footprint, it is a long-haul journey. IATA has adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport, aiming for a reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels, but there is a lot still to achieve, as the aviation industry continues to be one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise.

Source: Foundation for Future Supply Chain, July 22, 2021

Author: Julia Swales

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