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Hawaiian Air unveils net-zero emissions plan

LIHU‘E — A greener Hawaiian Airlines is taking flight.

The Honolulu-based airline announced last week a detailed plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a significant focus on utilizing renewable fuels.

The International Air Transport Association — an aviation trade association, of which Hawaiian Airlines is a member — passed a resolution in October 2021 committing its members to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from their operations by 2050. Doing so would keep the aviation industry in line with the Paris Agreement’s objective to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Becoming a net-zero carbon airline is a challenge, but as an airline serving the Pacific we recognize how critical it is that Hawaiian become a more sustainable company for our guests, employees and communities,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, in a statement. “We are excited about the progress we are making and these intermediate targets to which we are committing today.”

Globally, commercial aviation operations accounted for 2.4 percent of all CO2 emissions in 2018, according to The International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit organization. Additionally, a separate study conducted in 2021 concluded that aviation alone accounted for 3.5 percent of human-caused global warming in 2011, and likely maintained that percentage in 2018.

Hawaiian Airlines plans to take a multi-pronged approach to its lofty goal of net-zero emissions — but by far, its most significant contributions are expected to come from what’s known as sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

“Sustainable aviation fuel comes from current carbon that’s already in our environment,” said Peter Matlock, consultant at the federal Joint BioEnergy Institute and a bioeconomy research and commercialization specialist at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

“Traditional fuel comes from ancient carbon, and it keeps adding to the amount of carbon that’s in our environment, which is causing climate change problems,” Matlock said.

Made from sustainable feedstock, such as corn grain, oil seeds and algae rather than fossil fuels, SAF can provide a more renewable alternative to traditional fuels. It’s also a “drop-in” fuel, meaning it can be mixed with traditional jet fuel and added with no changes made to the aircraft.

“When measured on a life cycle basis, SAF can have 50 to 80 percent lower carbon intensity when compared to conventional jet fuel,” said Alanna James, managing director of sustainability initiatives at Hawaiian Airlines. “As noted in the road map … we anticipate SAF will be the single biggest contributor to bring our greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.”

Matlock added that while fully electric-powered aircraft exist, current technology is limited to small passenger counts and short flights — or, a hybrid aircraft, which would use both electric power and SAF.

“You need liquid fuel,” he said. “You just cannot get around it — it’s the one form of transportation for which there is no current feasible alternative.”

Hawaiian Airlines announced last week it would purchase 50 million gallons of SAF from biofuel company Gevo, with deliveries anticipated to begin in 2029. Additionally, the airline has partnered with Par Hawai‘i, the state’s largest provider of energy products, to study whether SAF production in Hawai‘i would be commercially viable.

The company hopes to replace 10 percent of conventional jet fuel with SAF by 2030.

Beyond SAF, Hawaiian Airlines plans to lower emissions in the coming decades by modernizing its fleet through a recent agreement to purchase 12 new Boeing 787-9 aircraft, design more fuel-efficient operational practices and advocate for air traffic control system improvements, as well as compensate for emissions through carbon offsets.

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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