Southwest Airlines is experimenting with a "green plane", a specially outfitted aircraft that the airline hopes will combine weight efficiency, environmentally responsible products, customer...

Southwest Airlines is experimenting with a “green plane”, a specially outfitted aircraft that the airline hopes will combine weight efficiency, environmentally responsible products, customer comfort, and reduced waste and weight.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 in the airline’s fleet, will serve as a test environment for new environmentally responsible materials and customer-comfort products.


All of the initiatives being tested on the ‘Green Plane’, when combined, will equate to a weight savings of almost 5lb per seat, according to Southwest Airlines. The airline says this will save fuel and reduce emissions. In addition, the airline will add recyclable elements to the cabin interior and reduce waste.

“Southwest is committed to continuing to lead the industry in emissions reductions through fuel efficiency. Efficiency in fuel consumption benefits our company as well as the environment, and this has been part of our business model since the beginning,” says Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chairman, president, and CEO. “As we look to the future, we know climate change remains of vital importance to our industry, our company, and our customers, so Southwest works hard every day in every area to be a responsible steward of the environment.”

In addition to Southwest Airlines' other environmental initiatives and its testing of a specially outfitted Boeing 737-700 'green plane', all of the airline's 737s eventually will have blended winglets. These reduce drag on the aircraft while it is flying and thus cut fuel burn and CO2 emissions by as much as 7 per cent during a flight

In addition to Southwest Airlines' other environmental initiatives and its testing of a specially outfitted Boeing 737-700 'green plane', all of the airline's 737s eventually will have blended winglets. These reduce drag on the aircraft while it is flying and thus cut fuel burn and CO2 emissions by as much as 7 per cent during a flight

Southwest will use the aircraft to serve as a testbed for eco-friendly products, which include:

InterfaceFLOR carpet: This carpet reduces labor and material costs because it is installed in sections, thus eliminating the need for total replacement of areas such as aisles, where Southwest currently uses one single piece of carpet. The 100-per-cent-recyclable carpet is returned to the manufacturer at the end of its service life and completely re-manufactured into new carpet; the process is completely carbon neutral;

Seat covers: Two new products will be tested on the aircraft seats, offering more than twice the durability than the current leather seats as well as a weight savings of almost 2lb per seat. Covering seats on one side of the aisle, e-Leather is an eco-friendly, lightweight and scuff resistant man-made alternative to traditional leather, according to Southwest. It is made from recycled materials that have been discarded by the leather industry. It is then upgraded using eco-friendly technology, resulting in composition leather, a man-made material. On the other side of the aisle, IZIT Leather, a new breed of premium leather alternative, is an evolutionary step beyond calf skin that Southwest says offers a lightweight product that is both economical and durable, but has the genuine appearance and touch of luxurious leather;

Life vest pouch: Spouthwest says this item is more environmentally friendly than its predecessor because it offers a weight savings of 1lb per passenger, replacing the current metal container with lighter durable canvas. The smaller pouch also creates more room under the seat for carry-on items and offers productivity improvements due to design change, according to the airline;

Foam fill: The airline says this is a lighter-weight fill from Garnier PURtec that is used in the back of seats and reduces weight while providing increased customer comfort; and

Passenger seat rub strips: Southwest says switching the composition of these products from plastic to aluminum will help with durability, which reduces waste, as well as being recyclable.

In addition to using the ‘green plane’, Southwest also will launch a more robust onboard recycling program on November 1. It says the new program is a co-mingled system that will allow the airline to capture more recyclable material and divert it from the waste stream. This 18-month process involved teamwork from all areas of the company to implement the program on the ground at Southwest’s provisioning bases and re-working of waste-collection procedures in the cabin, the airline says.