Cutting aviation pollution: Jambojet takes on sustainability challenge

Jambojet aeroplane pictured as it flew to JKIA on  November 24,2020.


What you need to know:

  • Globally, the aviation sector consumes 13 per cent of the fossil fuel used in transportation.
  • Last year, in October in Montreal, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation committed to sharply cut carbon emissions from air travel by 2050.

Aboard a De Havilland Dash 8 Q-400 aircraft, passengers on the 10:45am Jambojet flight from Nairobi to Mombasa on Friday, May 26 took part in an uncommon flying experience. They were part of hundreds of air passengers around the world flying on planes that were on a mission to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

These particular flights were participating in a global sustainability initiative, trialing new ideas and likely building on know-how towards a greener future for air travel.

Inflight, not only did they get morsels of information regarding the challenge and the airline’s sustainability journey, but they were served foods that the onboard chef explained “were sustainably and organically produced with minimally processed ingredients sourced direct from farmers,” all served on recyclable dishware in an effort to minimise environmental impacts.

The Sustainable Flight Challenge (TSFC) was organised by SkyTeam, the global airline alliance. First introduced last year, it is devised to encourage airlines to fast-track their sustainability journey by finding new ways to reduce air travel’s carbon footprint.

During this year’s challenge, 22 member airlines, including Kenya Airways, took on the task of flying their most sustainable flight, the results of which will be evaluated and lessons shared across SkyTeam.

“Air travel currently isn’t sustainable,” said Patrick Roux, SkyTeam CEO and Managing Director, at this year’s flag off. “The Challenge helps us and other airlines develop new ideas for sustainable solutions. All airlines share their ideas and solutions; everyone learns from each other.”

Most aircraft use jet fuel, which when burnt releases not only carbon dioxide (CO2) but also creates other byproducts including nitrogen oxides (NO2), soot and aerosols directly into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, thereby contributing substantially to global warming. Globally, the aviation sector consumes 13 per cent of the fossil fuel used in transportation. Last year in October in Montreal, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation committed to sharply cut carbon emissions from air travel by 2050 in response to growing pressure for airlines to reduce their pollution and adopted what the agency called an “aspirational goal” of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

“When we fly Nairobi-Mombasa and back we consume about 1970 kilograms of JET A fuel (a kerosene-type jet fuel). This leaves about 6,000 kilos of CO2 equivalent emitted. But by deploying eco-piloting, we can optimise the way the aircraft climbs, the way we descend from the sky, the speed among other measures such as weight reduction on the plane, and could save between 300 and 500 kilos of fuel compared to our baselines. That is about 7 per cent to 8 per cent fuel reduction. What this does to the environment is that we end up emitting less CO2. We also end up spending less as an airline,” said Jambojet’s CEO Karanja Ndegwa.

Jetfuel directly contributes to climate change as it emits 9.6 kilos of CO2 equivalent per gallon combusted, and flying one mile on average emits 24 kilos of CO2 emitted.

Emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are a primary driver of climate change.

Jambojet emits 40 kilos of CO2 equivalent per passenger for the 55-minute flight from Nairobi to Mombasa. The airline, which operates seven routes from its primary hub in Nairobi to Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Lamu, Diani, Malindi and Goma in DRC flew over one million passengers across its network.

“We’re going to use the same fuel that we have been using, however, with that same fuel, we’re going to tweak and optimise it to a very, very optimal level. The tweaks we’re going to make are around fuel burn reduction,” explained the airline’s chief, noting that the Dash 8 Q-400 aircraft is known for its flight efficiency, low fuel burn and also the least amount of carbon emission per passenger.

Jambojet also says it is investing in ground power units for all aircraft starts and to power supply equipment that provide clean power for both maintenance and engine starting aircraft. This will mean minimising use of aircraft auxiliary power units, thereby lowering carbon emissions.

Last year, Jambojet got performance-based navigation approval, which allows for use of the most optimum route into all the destinations it flies, which helps enhance fuel optimisation. According to the airline, the idea is to adopt as many solutions as possible. For instance, during the Sustainable Flight Challenge, to curb food waste, the airline asked passengers to pre-order meals at the point of buying air tickets, a plan it is looking at adopting for the long term as well as partnering with electric vehicle operators for airport transfers. The carrier has also devised a circular economy around turning old billboard canvas, seat fabric and old uniforms that no longer meet the safety requirements into recycled school bags and stuffed toys.

And as part of its sustainability programme, the airline has invested in three carbon offsetting projects in Nairobi, Uasin Gishu and Mombasa counties by planting trees and mangrove restoration in line with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol that advocates for use of natural processes called “carbon sinks,” that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

“So far we’ve planted over 100,000 trees, mostly in North Rift and Nairobi counties, and 3,000 seedlings planted in one hectare of mangrove along Tudor Creek in Mombasa,” Ndegwa said.

Ndegwa explained that even though Sustainable flight Challenge may seem like a patchwork of strategies and initiatives by individual airlines, eventually the airlines get to pick and choose best practices from other airlines within the group in the challenge to adopt and implement in the long term.

“TSFC is a great opportunity for us to collaborate and learn from global airlines through knowledge sharing and continuous improvement. The long-term goal is for us to adopt the things we’re doing today but to also borrow,” said the CEO of Jambojet.

“Going forward we’re looking at how we are going to implement these best practices on all our flights. And we’re currently working closely with our aircraft manufacturers to make sure that any moves we intend to make are very safe. So that we’re not doing anything outside the safety parameters.” 

Kenya’s flag carrier Kenya airways, on Thursday, May 25, also completed its long-haul sustainable flight challenge to from Nairobi to Amsterdam. SkyTeam will evaluate the results of the challenge and issue each participating airline with a report in October.