Southwest sees return on sustainability investments
Southwest Airlines continues to advance its commitment to sustainability in aviation through investments in flight planning technology and renewable jet fuel produced in Oregon, increasing its jet fuel efficiency to save nearly 13 million gallons of fuel in 2018.
The Dallas-based airline, which has been recognized in past years for its efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. Investments in programs focused on various areas of efficiency, including reserve fuel requirements, flight planning and flying practices, resulted in seven consecutive years of carbon emissions reductions, representing $800 million in fuel cost savings.
Southwest sources most of its jet fuel directly from refineries and manages logistics, direct to airports, for greater control and cost effectiveness. Additionally, the airline signed an agreement to purchase Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) from Red Rock Biofuels, which in 2018 broke ground on a $320 million renewable fuels facility in Lakeview, Ore.
“The plant is under construction and starting to come out of the ground now,” said Red Rock Biofuels CEO Terry Kulesa in an interview with Jet Fuel Innovation News. “We plan on it being in commission by late summer. A portion of what we produce will go to Southwest and some of it will go to Fedex.”
The low-carbon jet fuel producer plans to convert 136,000 short tons — or about 123,000 tonnes — of waste wood biomass into 15.1 million gallons of renewable fuels at the Lakeview facility annually. They’ve received commitments from Southwest and FedEx to initially purchase 3 million gallons of SAF annually, according to statements from both companies.
“We’ve partnered with national research labs to vet and help ultimately bring commercially viable SAF to the market,” said Chris Mainz, senior manager of public relations at Southwest, in an interview with Jet Fuel Innovation News, adding that the company is always exploring new technologies with startups in the SAF industry to further this effort.
The airline has made more than $600 million in fuel efficiency investments since 2002, mostly in the area of flight planning technology.
“We continue to invest in technology, and we are also investing in new tools that better manage fuel and plan from pushback to gate arrival,” Mainz said. “We believe improved data sharing with FAA Air Traffic Control and Systems will reduce airborne holding and taxi times to further improve efficiency.”
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