British Airways is on its ‘most important journey yet’ as it launches new BA Better World sustainability programme

8 September, 2021

British Airways has launched BA Better World, a new sustainability programme that it describes as its ‘most important journey yet’. To highlight the programme’s ambitions it has partnered with Airbus to paint one of its A320neos in the new sustainability programme colours. The modern, fuel-efficient A320neo has 20% less fuel burn & CO2 emissions and 50% less noise emissions than the previous generation A320ceo.

The airline said this new project marks a further commitment to “put sustainability at the heart of its business, from reducing emissions and waste and positively contributing to the communities it serves, to creating a great place for people to work in order to build a resilient, responsible business”.

British Airways has been supporting the aviation industry’s efforts to decarbonise for some time. In 1992 it was the first airline to report its carbon footprint. In 2002 it started participating in UK emissions trading, while in 2019 its parent company IAG became the first airline group in the world to commit to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Last year British Airways also voluntarily agreed to offset all emissions from its domestic flights.

“We know that demand for air travel will grow again in the years to come, but we also know that this must happen sustainably,” says British Airways in its sustainability pledges. Flying comes with an environmental cost and the airline says it acknowledges “the need for urgent action to tackle the impact flying currently has on our planet” and issue that “we're shying away from,” it says. “Despite these unprecedented times and the crisis in global aviation, we remain focused on a sustainable future and we're making progress on our journey to get us there,” it adds.

After unveiling the new aircraft livery this week, British Airways announced a collaboration with bp, committing to source sustainable aviation fuel with respect to all its flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during the UK’s COP26 climate change summit being held in Glasgow later this year.

For the flights from City, Gatwick and Heathrow airports in the UK capital, the fuel will be mixed with traditional jet fuel and blended to meet requisite certification requirements. The SAF sourced for the COP26 period provides a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. This is because the emissions produced from SAF release carbon that has previously already been released into the atmosphere, unlike emissions produced from traditional jet fuel, which release carbon previously locked under the ground

In a UK first, British Airways also announced that its travellers can purchase sustainable aviation fuel to reduce their carbon footprint via its not-for-profit organisation Pure Leapfrog. This is in addition to the existing option for customers to offset their emissions.

The collaboration with bp forms part of British Airways’ long-term commitment to the development and use of sustainable aviation fuel. The airline’s parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), is investing USD400m over the next 20 years into the development of SAF, with British Airways forming partnerships with a number of technology and fuel companies to develop SAF plants and purchase the fuel, including with Velocys in the UK and LanzaJet in the US. British Airways, as part of an IAG commitment, recently stated it would power 10% of its fuel needs with SAF by 2030.

The airline is partnering with technology company Velocys on the Altalto project to build a commercial waste-to-SAF plant in Immingham, Lincolnshire. Altalto will take more than half a million tonnes per year of household and commercial waste and produce up to 80 million litres of cleaner burning SAF and naphtha. The project has already received planning consent from North East Lincolnshire Council and is in the final stages of preparation for Front End Engineering Design.

Project Speedbird is a collaboration between British Airways, LanzaJet and Nova Pangaea, with a goal of producing 100 million litres of sustainable fuel a year from 2025, sufficient to power 2,000 flights from London to New York operated by an A350 aircraft. The technology is based on Nova Pangaea's REFNOVA process of converting waste wood into alcohol. LanzaJet's alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) technology, which was developed by LanzaTech and the Pacific Northwest National Lab, then converts the alcohol to produce sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel.

British Airways is also working on two further decarbonisation projects with LanzaTech and LanzaJet that, if successful, could each produce more than 100 million litres a year of SAF. The first would involve capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and converting it into SAF. The second would support the development of a SAF plant in Port Talbot, South Wales that would produce SAF from waste and industrial gases, with the potential to support significant jobs in the area.

“With BA Better World we’re on our most important journey yet – to a better, more sustainable future and one which will ensure the long-term success of our business. We’re clear that we have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the planet and have a detailed plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft, improving our operational efficiency and investing in the development of sustainable aviation fuel and zero emissions aircraft,” said British Airways CEO and Chairman Sean Doyle at the launch of the programme.

Mr Doyle acknowledged that such targets will only be achieved “through working in partnership with Government and industry” and Martin Thomsen, CEO of bp’s aviation division confirmed that it will continue to support British Airways “on sustainable aviation fuel supply initiatives on an on-going basis”.

“At bp we want to help decarbonize the aviation industry and we will continue to collaborate with industry stakeholders and governments to explore viable options to help scale up sustainable aviation fuel more broadly,” he added.

At the event at British Airways’ Heathrow engineering base the airline showcased some of the initiatives it has introduced to improve sustainability in the air and on the ground, including switching from diesel to renewably powered electric pushback vehicles and removing weight from its aircraft by introducing lighter seats and trollies, inflight magazines and paper flight manuals. It also outlined its efforts to remove single-use plastic and source more products made from recycled materials, including its First Class duvet and World Traveller Plus amenity kits.

The airline’s new sustainability strategy is not simply focused on the planet though, with two further priorities concentrated on its people and driving responsible business. The carrier has launched a new BA Better World Community Fund to further the work it does within the UK and global communities it flies to and pledged to take positive action in many other areas of its business.

IAG's Flightpath Net Zero 2050 programme puts environmental sustainability at the heart of its business. It aims to reach its targets through a combination of new aircraft and operations, sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsets and removals.