Already rated by the Carbon Disclosure Project as the world’s top airline for sustainability practices and open-disclosure reporting, Finnair is intensifying its sustainability efforts....

Already rated by the Carbon Disclosure Project as the world’s top airline for sustainability practices and open-disclosure reporting, Finnair is intensifying its sustainability efforts.

The carrier’s intensified focus on sustainability comes as Finnair increasingly brands itself an “ecosmart” airline. According to Finnair, such carriers should be the choice of environmentally conscious travelers seeking an airline which offers high-quality in-flight service and is striving to become carbon-neutral.

Finnair uses seven Airbus A340-300s to perform its longest-haul routes, from Helsinki to destinations in Northern and Southern Asia. From late 2014 or early 2015 some of the A340s are likely to be replaced by new A350-900 long-haul twinjets, of which Finnair had 11 on firm order as of mid-2012, with another eight optioned

Speaking in Helsinki, Kati Ihamäki, Finnair’s vice president for sustainable development, said that in addition to its other sustainability efforts, Finnair is planning for late 2012 or early 2013 a non-stop Helsinki-Asia revenue flight powered by a 50-50 blend of biofuel and conventional jet fuel.

Ihamäki said that after Finnair had performed its two first biofuel flights in 2011, on the Amsterdam-Helsinki route and using a 50-50 blend of biofuel – made from used cooking oil and provided by partner SkyNRG – and conventional fuel, the carrier “got lots of interest from other airlines” on acquiring and using biofuels.

Finnair has retained enough of the SkyNRG fuel batch produced for those two flights for the outbound sector of a Helsinki-Asia biofuel flight. So it is now seeking a production partner to provide fuel for the return leg, according to Ihamäki.

For its sustainability strategy Finnair has set itself ambitious goals in terms of reductions in greenhouse-gas and NOx emissions per seat, but the carrier believes they are wholly achievable.

Finnair uses Airbus A320-family aircraft (all of which have common flight decks) as the core of its short- and medium-haul fleet. The carrier operates A319s, A320s and A321s and operates a 'demand-driven dispatch' flying system with its A320-family fleet whereby, the night before a given flight is due to operate, the airline can decide to replace an aircraft of one size with a different model depending on the expected passenger and cargo load

The airline aims to reduce total emissions per seat by 41 per cent from 1999 to 2017, the effort intensifying from 2009 as Finnair set itself a goal of cutting emissions by 24 per cent between then and the 2017 target date. By 2017, Finnair wants to be producing just 2 liters of emissions per seat per 100 kilometers.

Finnair supports IATA’s goal of achieving carbon-neutral flying within 50 years and the use of a global emissions trading scheme (ETS), but does not support the European Union’s unilateral imposition of an ETS on all airlines flying to, from and within the EU.

Likewise, Finnair supports the Single European Sky initiative, which would effectively unite 35 air navigation service providers (ANSPs) into one, allowing the potential for more direct and more efficient routings. This could save 6 per cent to 12 per cent a year in Finnair’s fuel burn, Ihamäki reckons.

In addition to marketing uncongested Helsinki-Vantaa Airport as the logical choice for eco-aware travelers – and Finnair as the logical carrier – to provide the shortest-possible connections in time and distance between northwestern Europe and northern Asia, Finnair has adopted various operational measures to make its flying more efficient.

The Airbus A330-300 is a mainstay of Finnair's long-haul fleet. The carrier has eight of the type in service and uses A330s to fly to New York, its main North American destination

These include demand-driven dispatch, Finnair deciding the night before a short-haul flight which particular aircraft type should operate it, based on the expected passenger and cargo load. Finnair also reduces fuel burn on the ground by having its aircraft taxi out and in using only one engine.

The carrier’s pilots are also asked to fly at optimal speeds and heights during each flight, where possible, aiming for on-time arrivals rather than burning more fuel to get there early. Pilots are also asked to upload the minimum of extra fuel compatible with completely safe operation.

A “cost-index” monitor on each flight deck allows pilots to calculate the effects on total operational cost of factors such as slowing down a little, or requesting altitude changes to take advantage of more favorable winds.

Helsinki-Vantaa Airport plays an important role in allowing Finnair to keep its fuel burn and emissions down. The fact the airport has three runways and is uncongested allows Finnair – in cooperation with ANSP Finavia – to perform most of its landings using fuel-efficient continuous descent approaches (CDAs), performed on flight-idle power directly to 1,500-foot decision heights close to the airfield.

Finnair operates four Boeing 757s on medium-haul and long-haul flights, mainly on its Finnair Leisure Flights charter network. The carrier also uses the type to operate seasonally to Toronto in the summer

Additionally, Finnair has adopted a stringent “weight watchers” program to reduce the weight of service material on each aircraft, in order to reduce fuel burn. Where possible, for instance, it replaces steel cutlery with plastic.

Ihamäki says every 50 kilograms of weight saved on a Finnair aircraft produces a reduction of 1 million kilograms of CO2 emissions a year and notes Finnair’s decision to change the seats on its A320s for lighter, newer-technology seats is producing an annual saving of 7 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.

Additionally, said Ihamäki, every new generation of aircraft produces about a 20 per cent reduction in emissions than the preceding generation. The average age of the aircraft in Finnair’s long-haul fleet of eight Airbus A330-300s and seven A340-300s is three years and that of its narrowbody fleet seven years.

Finnair already holds orders for 11 A350-900 twinjets and options on eight more, the firmly ordered aircraft to be delivered from late 2014 or the first half of 2015.

Some A350s will replace two A340-300s whose leases are due to end in 2014 and probably also another, older-vintage Airbus A340-300 which Finnair bought second-hand. Depending on growth requirements and market conditions, Finnair might keep its remaining four A340-300s in service after the A350s are delivered.

Finnair has transferred a fleet of 12 Embraer 190s, which it uses on sort-haul domestic and international routes, to partner Flybe Nordic to operate on its behalf

No decision has yet been taken on replacing the carrier’s short-to-medium-haul fleet of Airbus A319s, A320s and A321s, though the carrier has newly decided to transfer its 12 Embraer 190s to Flybe Nordic, its new regional joint venture with UK carrier Flybe.

In addition to its operational and fleet measures, Ihamäki revealed the carrier’s new headquarters now being built at Helsinki-Vantaa will be certified to LEED Gold sustainability standards by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building – known as the Home of Travel and Transportation (HOTT) – will use geothermal heating and all workspaces have been designed to be open, with ad hoc meeting spaces, to prevent clutters of paper building up.

All employees are asked to reduce their paper usage and in HOTT printing of documents to produce hard copies will not generally be allowed. HOTT will also feature parking spaces for bikes (so employees can cycle to work) and charging units for electrically powered cars.

At present Helsinki-Vantaa itself is not a shining example of an environmentally responsible airport, since the only public transport available to and from the airport is by bus. However, a loop is now being built to the airport from the main Helsinki-Tampere railway line which runs nearby and plans call for Helsini-Vantaa to have two stations, one serving the terminals themselves, in operation by 2014.