Hawaiian Airlines offers a lot to like. It has amusing safety videos, its planes arrive on time and nobody gets beat up.

That’s the good news.

The bad news, however, is Hawaiian appears rather lackluster regarding carbon emissions. While the state of Hawaii’s committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, the commitment excludes aviation.

Hawaiian Airlines. 22 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
A Hawaiian Airlines jet at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Atmosfair, a German research organization that evaluates airlines for environmental sustainability, ranks Hawaiian only middle of the pack among long-haul carriers serving the islands.

Hawaiian flies a fuel-efficient aircraft fleet. The problem seems to lie with Hawaiian’s noncommittal attitude to biofuels.

In an interview with Hawaiian’s inflight magazine Hana Hou, Hawaiian President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said Hawaiian’s reluctance to use biofuel blends is largely due to safety reasons because Hawaiian flies over oceans.

That fair enough. Hawaiian cares about safety. We all do. But the excuse is deflated somewhat by other airlines successfully doing it.

Take Singapore Airlines — another safety conscious carrier.

Singapore is now running a trial of weekly 8,446-mile flights from San Francisco to Singapore (twice the distance from the U.S. West Coast to Hawaii and all over water) using a biofuel blend in an Airbus A350-900.

Hawaiian’s longest route, by comparison, is about 5,000 miles. It’s flown by an Airbus A330 between Honolulu and New York — with half the flight over land.

For its part, Airbus is so confident about biofuels it offers to deliver newly-built A350s from Toulouse to buyers using a biofuel blend.

Hawaiian’s planning to take delivery of a few of these Airbus planes this year, flown from Toulouse in a 16-hour non-stop flight.

Given Singapore Airlines and Airbus’ confidence in biofuels, Dunkerley’s comments in Hana Hou look a bit, well, behind the news.
A more practical excuse, of course, could be lack of biofuel supply. But even there, if true, Hawaiian looks — at best — slow off the mark.

Take Alaska Airlines.

Alaska’s routinely using biofuel blends. It’s also buying biofuel from island-based Hawaii Bioenergy, presumably for the airline’s flights (over water) from Honolulu to Anchorage.

Where’s Hawaiian?

For its part, Hawaiian’s biggest recent announced sustainability initiative has been to test plugging in its planes to mains power while parked at airports. The goal, naturally, is to reduce ground-based jet fuel consumption.

In another touted initiative, Hawaiian also says its flights now routinely carry atmospheric monitoring equipment to contribute data to climate change studies.

Both are great ideas. But it’s also a bit hard to believe both aren’t already widespread practice. They look like pretty low-hanging fruit. I sought answers from Hawaii on the questions above from two different Hawaiian Airlines departments. Both responded by saying that the airline is committed to fuel efficiency and environmental sustainability — which didn’t answer my questions.

The state of Hawaii leads the world in its universally-supported political commitment to achieving a 100 percent renewable energy economy by 2045. At present, aviation’s the only sector omitted from this statewide commitment.

But that’s changing, too — at least at the global level. In 2020, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation comes into effect.

CORSIA binds all airlines to achieving carbon neutral growth starting in 2020. That will be followed by ever greater ambition by CORSIA in later years to further reduce global aviation carbon emissions

Hawaii already has a foot firmly placed in the future. Does Hawaiian?

Editor’s note: Stewart Taggart is a Hawaiian Airlines shareholder.

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