Green Skies Alliance: 787 an eco wrecker?

One full tank of fuel on the long range 787-9 is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from 1.3 million miles of motoring.Sunday July 8th sees the world’s media assemble in Seattle for the launch of Boeing’s new so-called “Dreamliner” the 787 aircraft.

Touted as the greenest aircraft money can buy, Boeing claim the new 787 will be up to 20% more fuel efficient than previous aircraft like its own 767. Boeing has achieved better fuel efficiency per passenger kilometre by:

Using the latest high technology engines from GE and Rolls Royce which use around 10-12% less fuel
Better aerodynamics, lighter construction materials and light weight on-board systems, gaining another 8-10% contribution

Boeing expect to sell 2,000 of these aircraft from today through to 2023, with sales totalling around $200 billion in the process, the majority flying well into the 2030’s.



But the impact all these new aircraft will have on the environment is far from benign, as Boeing’s PR flim-flam would have us believe: up to 2,000 new Boeing 787’s in our skies over the next 30 years will contribute to an overall growing CO2 emission burden from air transport, a wholly negative addition that will only increase, not decrease, the worrying climate change impacts caused by our addiction to flying.


Boeing’s new 787 comes in 3 variants: short, medium and long range. The short and medium range variants, the 787-3 and 787-8, carry 223 to 296 passengers: and the 787-9, 263 people. This is how much CO2 each aircraft will produce with a full fuel load:


á      fuel capacity of the 787-3 and 787-8 is 126,903 litres

á      each litre of kerosene burnt results in 3.2 kilograms of CO2

á      406 tonnes of CO2 are emitted for each full fuel load

á      406 tonnes of CO2 is equivalent to 138 people driving 9,000 miles each per year, or 1,242,000 miles in all!

á      For the 787-9, the fuel capacity is 138,700 litres, with 444 tonnes of CO2 emitted for each full fuel load

á      444 tonnes of CO2 is equivalent to 150 people driving 9,000 miles each year, or 1,350,000 miles in total!


Publicising fuel efficiency figures only could easily be misleading, given that kgs of CO2 / passenger-km is a relative, not absolute, measure of how much carbon dioxide is being emitted, and could quite easily be going down even while overall emissions are going up. In other words, aircraft manufacturers and airlines could well be responsible for growing emissions even while becoming more efficient, simply by expanding the number of flights faster than the rise in efficiency.


Jeff Gazzard, GreenSkies Alliance spokesman said:


“There is no doubt that these aircraft are cheaper to operate because they use less fuel per passenger kilometre and are also cheaper to maintain due to their largely composite construction - good news for airlines as these economies make flying cheaper still and are used to aggressively grow the air transport industry with more aircraft flying more and more passengers to more destinations. But their environmental impact is a nightmare not a dream.


The best the aircraft manufacturing industry and airlines can do, as the new 787 shows, is produce efficiency gains of around 1-2% per year - but overall demand-led emissions growth is increasing at 4-5% per year. Result - air transport’s climate change impacts get worse and worse year on year!


If we are serious about getting to grips with climate change, we have to start controlling and reducing the upwards curve of CO2 emissions from flying by taxing aircraft fuel and introducing tough demand management policies. We will all have to simply fly less in the future.”