AirAsia targets net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 2
Photo from ABS-CBN News file

This Asian airline company targets net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Among AirAsia’s top priorities is upgrading its fleet to the A321neo, widely acknowledged as the most fuel-efficient aircraft on the market today
RHIA GRANA | Jul 14 2023

For a while now, we’ve been hearing the word “sustainability” alongside company CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives such as tree-planting, waste reduction, upcycling, and the use of renewable energy. But it was only after attending the inaugural of AirAsia's Sustainability Day in Malaysia that I got to truly appreciate the importance of sustainability in air travel.

Sustainability in aviation is the practice of reducing the environmental, economic, and social impacts of air transportation. According to a 2020 data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), “aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, but this is expected to increase to 2.5% by 2050 if no action is taken.” This BBC article also notes that “aviation accounts for around 5% of global warming.”

“AirAsia’s top priorities are in upgrading its fleet to the A321neo, widely acknowledged as the most fuel-efficient aircraft on the market today,” said Yap.

Last month, the Malaysian airline hosted an event where they brought key stakeholders—government officials, regulators, financial institutions, aviation analysts, business partners and the media—to advance their understanding of the intricacies of aviation sustainability.

In the event themed “Doing More with Less,” experts led by Capital A Chief Sustainability Officer Yap Mun Ching shared in-depth information on topics that address AirAsia’s pathways to decarbonization, as well as the challenges and opportunities in the implementation of these strategies. Most of these are also tackled in a handbook entitled “Guide to Aviation Sustainability” produced by the airline, for the better understanding of the stakeholders concerned.

AirAsia targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. They are doing this by upgrading their planes to newer, more efficient models; stepping up on their green operating procedures; introducing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into their fuel mix; and purchasing carbon offsets from organizations whose activities remove or avoid CO2 emissions such as reforestation or renewable energy generation.

AirAsia hosts its first Sustainability Day at RedQ, led by Yap Mun Ching, Chief Sustainability Officer at Capital A.

“AirAsia’s top priorities are in upgrading its fleet to the A321neo, widely acknowledged as the most fuel-efficient aircraft on the market today,” said Yap, “and in expanding and deepening its industry-leading fuel-efficiency programme.” It currently has on order of 362 new A321neo aircraft which will be delivered between 2024 and 2035.

Meanwhile, the airline has saved over US$130 million in fuel consumption, while avoiding the associated CO2 emissions since 2015. This is according to AirAsia Senior Manager of Flight Operations Projects, Development & Efficiency Jonathan Sanjay. The airline is also exploring options to introduce SAF into its fuel mix before 2025. 

In our interview with Yap, she stressed the role of governments in achieving aviation sustainability goals. First they could help by ensuring efficiency in airspace. “If flights are shorter, less carbon, less fuel will be used. Everybody can arrive at the destination faster,” she said. “If you're making us fly 10 minutes longer, whether you use SAF or you use jet fuel, you're still burning.”

Second, governments could give incentive structure. For airlines to be able to use renewable energy sources like e-vehicles on the tarmac, they should be provided with charging stations.

Entrance to AirAsia's engineering complex in Malaysia. 

The third facet is helping promote general awareness. “We cannot drive the message if the governments do not drive the message. Every country should have a green transition plan,” Yap said. “It shouldn't be just about air travel. It should be a comprehensive national decarbonization plan.”

I asked what could possibly be the biggest challenge in implementing sustainability in the Philippines. She replied, “Manila is one of the most congested airports and as a result, we burn a lot more fuel holding the planes in Manila. So those infrastructural bottlenecks will remain unless there's a massive change in how you can expand [or operate] your airport.”

For the Philippine aviation industry to stay competitive, its government has to start investing in new technologies, “otherwise everybody in the Philippines is going to be paying more for air travel than everybody else.”

She also mentioned an important issue that has greatly impacted the country the past years. “[The Philippines] is more susceptible to climate change. You have more typhoons, more earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. All these are going to create a set of risks for every airline,” she warned, adding that working with financial institutions and governments to lessen these risks is another major challenge that needs to be addressed.

Yap said she is planning to visit the Philippines to meet with the Secretaries of the DOTr and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to discuss how AirAsia can help the Philippines meet its environmental obligations under international treaties and agreements.

The Malaysia talks were followed by a tour of AirAsia's engineering complex, RedChain, where participants learned about the initiatives that Asia Digital Engineering is undertaking to revolutionize aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul.

Photographs taken using Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra