Delta Air Lines is launching a first-of-its-kind airline innovation lab to accelerate research, design and testing for a more sustainable future of air travel. Delta Sustainable Skies Lab will feature ongoing work across Delta today, inspire disruptive industry innovation, and scale known tech and actions to reach Delta’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
Pam Fletcher, Delta’s Chief Sustainability Officer, said that The Lab will lead the industry by going beyond financial investments, contributing Delta talent and know-how to ensure Delta is the airline of choice for disruptors hoping to test and launch their ideas.
“Delta Sustainable Skies Lab is about pairing the operational expertise of our teams with innovators to inspire new ideas and spur industry advancement – it’s a place to showcase advancements and a movement to galvanize everyone with a stake in creating the more sustainable future of flight,” Fletcher said.
Delta’s 2050 sustainability journey is guided by two pillars:
Eliminate Delta’s climate impact from flying by optimizing flying operations and partnering to accelerate clean fuel availability and revolutionary aircraft.
Embed sustainability in everything Delta does on our ongoing journey to deliver more sustainable travel experiences and business operations.
The Lab will take various forms in support of these pillars:
Internal innovation culture: The Lab will connect, align and showcase sustainability-driven work from Delta people in Flight Operations, Technical Operations, Inflight Services, Operations & Customer Center and Fleet. Everything from how Delta is eliminating single use plastics onboard to electrifying its ground equipment is being tackled. Delta’s Carbon Council is serving as the model – it’s already driving operational improvements and efficiencies that align with Delta’s SBTi commitments, resulting in more than 10 million gallons in fuel savings in 2022 alone.
Innovative partnerships: “With aviation being a hard-to-decarbonize industry, none of us can do this alone. We’re rolling out the welcome mat for disruptors of choice to take advantage of Delta’s global resources to accelerate our path to decarbonization and a fully sustainable travel experience,” Fletcher said. The Lab will attract the next generation of “doers” who evolve how airlines think about decarbonization. Newcomers will join previously announced sustainability partners such as Airbus and Joby Aviation, and include research collaborations like Delta has established with MIT.
Engagement & Ideation Studio experiences: A complex at the global airline’s Atlanta headquarters will showcase Delta’s evolving sustainability efforts in a single place. Everyone from students and employees to sustainability thought leaders and the world’s greatest inventors will experience Delta’s vision for and work toward advancing the more sustainable future of flight. Interactive digital walls, virtual reality stations, experiential mock-ups and more will bring the vision to life. The space will also welcome stakeholders to meet, collaborate, ideate and share ideas to build momentum across the industry and beyond. While the Engagement Studio will open and operate in phases, work is ongoing to develop The Lab partnerships and test new technology to advance Delta’s sustainability work.
Testing environments: Delta will continue tapping its own operation to test concepts for reducing its environmental impact. This work will be highlighted in the Engagement Studio to help advance the industry. One such test planned for 2023 is Aero Design Labs’ novel technology to decrease aircraft drag and emissions.
Fletcher is leading the Delta Sustainable Skies Lab strategy in collaboration with The Lab’s council, which includes senior leaders from Technical Operations, Flight Operations, Fleet, Fuel, Operations & Customer Center, Inflight Service and Airport Customer Service. Much like Delta views safety, sharing best practices and being transparent about its sustainability approach is central to The Lab’s mission.
“This work is imperative for our planet and our business,” Fletcher added. “We’ve seen how critical human connection is to thrive – and how travel is the great enabler. As we make progress toward our sustainability goals, we want to make sure our customers will feel as good about flying as they do about the connections made with the people and places we take them to.”
The Delta Sustainable Skies Lab is one way Delta catalyzes innovative breakthroughs, attracts new capital to the industry for scaling innovations, and develops policies our industry needs to accelerate the sustainable future of flying.