How new airplanes with less legroom will help fight climate change

First-class seats on large, gas-guzzling four-engine aircraft are the least fuel efficient
New airplanes with spartan quarters appear to offer the greatest fuel efficiency when crossing the Atlantic. So enjoy that new plane smell as your knees buckle—you’re doing your part to fight climate change.

Among 20 airlines that traverse North Atlantic routes, Norwegian Air Shuttle ranked as the most fuel-efficient last year, with British Airways the least, as measured by passenger-kilometers per litre of jet fuel, according to a report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). Norwegian has incorporated a heavy mix of Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft as part of its aggressive expansion into the US.

The metric also speaks to the abundance of premium cabins: Norwegian and WOW Air, atop the list, have little in the way of luxury; at the other end of the efficiency ranks, British Airways and Deutsche Lufthansa fly ample business — and first-class seats on large, gas-guzzling four-engine aircraft. The results show that Norwegian flew a passenger 44 km with each litre of jet fuel consumed, while British Airways managed only 27 km  per litre. Across the Atlantic, those carriers fly mostly the Boeing 787-8 and 747-400, respectively.

British Airways, part of the International Consolidated Airlines Group , said the study reflects its larger share of premium traffic over the North Atlantic and that the carrier has improved its fuel efficiency by 10 per cent in the past decade.

“We are investing heavily in modern, fuel-efficient aircraft, including the 787, A380 and A350, and by 2020 will have received more than 100 new aircraft in a decade,” spokeswoman Nicola Pearson said in an email. “We are well on course to deliver a 25 per cent improvement in carbon emissions reduction by 2025.”

The industry average was around 34 kilometres, which was about the score of the world’s two largest carriers, American Airlines Group Inc. (33 km) and Delta Air Lines Inc. (34 km). United Continental Holdings was below the average, at 31 km per litre.

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