Air Canada Aims to Decarbonize Using Electric-Hybrid Aircraft, Other Methods

Air Canada

Air Canada in flight

by | Sep 30, 2022

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Air Canada

Air Canada in flight

Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline. It is headquartered in Montreal. Founded in 1937, it flies to 222 destinations worldwide. The airline has set ambitious environmental goals, including the purchase agreement for 30 hybrid airplanes that run on electricity and traditional aviation fuels.

Its goal is to be net zero by 2050 using more energy-efficient aircraft and leading-edge aircraft technologies. It will also use more renewable energy at its facilities while relying on carbon offsets. Beyond that, it aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 from a 2019 baseline. It is also making a $50 million investment in sustainable aviation fuels.

Sustainable aviation fuels are  the main avenue by which Air Canada and the aviation industry as a whole will reduce their GHG emissions, as the industry continues to develop other aircraft technologies such as electric, hybrid or hydrogen aircraft at scale in a commercially meaningful way,” said Teresa Ehman, Senior Director, Environmental Affairs at Air Canada.

Air Canada is a signatory of the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition. The coalition’s mission is to accelerate the deployment and use of sustainable aviation fuel technologies to reach 10% of the global jet aviation fuel supply by 2030.

Tell us about the electric aircraft. 

Air Canada has ordered 30 hybrid aircraft from Heart Aerospace — a plane called ES-30. Air Canada is also taking a $5 million equity stake in the Sweden-based Heart, which is backed in part by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corp. It is part of his Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which is investing in promising eco-friendly technologies. United Airlines is also an investor in Heart and will buy up to 100 electric aircraft from the company. 

The plane has an all-electric range of 124 miles — double that if combined with traditional fuels. It flies at an altitude of 20,000 feet. The plane will fly to and from regional airports and hold 30 passengers. It is powered by four electric motors using lithium-ion batteries and two turbo generators that can run on sustainable aviation fuels. It has a charging time of 30 to 50 minutes. Earlier this year, Heart completed a test flight.

“The introduction into our fleet of the ES-30 electric regional aircraft from Heart Aerospace will be a step forward to our goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” Air Canada Chief Executive Michael Rousseau said in a press release.

And your carbon policies?

Since 2007, Air Canada has tracked its carbon footprint and reported it to the Carbon Disclosure Project, a global disclosure system. It says that climate change is a global challenge that knows no boundaries.  

“Commercial aviation accounts for about 2%-3% of all global carbon emissions. Air Canada monitors its GHG emissions closely and is committed to mitigating its environmental footprint,” the company says. “As about 99% of the airline’s carbon dioxide emissions are generated from aircraft engine combustion, there is a strong positive correlation between meeting our environmental targets and reducing fuel burn, GHG emissions, and our operating costs.”

Air Canada has actively had a carbon-reduction program since at least 2012. Its broad goal is to get to net zero by 2050. In the near term, it aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% before 2030 from a 2019 baseline. And it wants to cut them by 30% from its ground operations under the timeline. It will spend $50 million on sustainable aviation fuels, carbon reductions, and removals. The attention, generally, is on its fleet and operations, technology and innovation, sustainable aviation fuels and clean energy, and carbon reduction and removals. 

For example, it partners with the Edmonton International Airport to reduce the carbon impact of air travel. Together, they focus on electrocution of aviation equipment, hydrogen fuel cell technologies, and green power generation using solar energy purchased from Airport City Solar. They also are trying to develop sustainable aviation fuels, biofuels, and hydrogen while replacing single-use plastics with plant-fiber materials.

In 2021, Air Canada launched its Leave Less Travel Program, which allows business travelers to track and reduce their carbon footprints. They can do so by buying carbon offsets — credits that guarantee the purchase of renewable energy or the use of sustainable aviation fuels.

In 2021, fuel efficiency initiatives at Air Canada saved 2.2 million liters of jet fuel. That equates to 5,778 tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

How does the company deal with waste and recycling?

Air Canada says it diverted 70% of the waste generated in its office and facilities from landfills — a policy it developed in 2020. It also recycles 50% of “approved items” on domestic flights. For example, Air Canada estimates that it recycles thousands of plastic bottles annually.

“In 2018, Air Canada introduced a centralized recycling program at our Montréal headquarters and Vancouver Operations Centre,” the company says. “Larger receptacles in common areas were installed, desk-side garbage bins were eliminated, and employees had access to recycle common items such as plastics, paper, and organics.” The same program was rolled out in 2019 in its Winnipeg and Calgary offices.

In 2021, Air Canada said it collected and diverted over 10.87 tons of electronic waste from landfill in its offices and facilities. The equipment included printers, IT equipment, iPads, ink cartridges, and other e-waste that were recycled or reused. That effort comes on top of a 2015 initiative that recycles all batteries in offices and facilities. 

And water? 

Air Canada uses water for its flight operations, from de-icing planes to sanitary reasons. It also uses water in its corporate and maintenance facilities. The subsequent effluent from de-icing operations is collected and treated. Facilities use water in cooling towers and to support the aircraft and ground crews. The water usually comes from the local municipalities and is discharged to municipal sewer systems directly — or directly into the airport’s sewer system. Any hazardous wastewater is disposed of or treated. 

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