Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 19, 2014

Contact: Vera Pardee, (858) 717-1448,

Study: Airline Fuel Efficiency Grounded as Profits Soar

Huge Efficiency Gap Shows EPA Must Cut Aircraft Carbon Pollution

SAN FRANCISCO— As 24 million Americans prepare for Thanksgiving air travel, a new analysis reveals that U.S. domestic airlines showed no improvement in fuel efficiency last year, highlighting the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the industry’s rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

American Airlines burned an estimated 27 percent more fuel than the three most efficient carriers — Alaska, Spirit and Frontier — to provide an equivalent level of transport service in 2013, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation’s new report.

U.S. airlines posted a 5.7 percent profit margin in the first three quarters of this year. Meanwhile industry pollution is increasing: Aviation now accounts for about 11 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. transportation sector, and those emissions are rising 3 percent to 5 percent every year.

“Airlines are banking sizeable profits even as they simply ignore fuel efficiency and emit more carbon pollution,” said Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This report’s disturbing findings leave the EPA no choice but to finally confront airplanes’ escalating emissions. Until we get sensible federal regulations, we’ll see more and more planet-warming pollution from this industry.”

If counted as a country, global aviation would have ranked seventh in terms of CO2 emissions in 2011, just after Germany. These already massive CO2 emissions rise every year and are projected to triple by 2050.

The EPA announced two months ago that it has started a rulemaking process to determine whether American aircrafts’ fast-growing carbon emissions endanger public health and welfare. The result of that process is a foregone conclusion: they do. The agency expects to issue a proposed finding by late April 2015, along with a notice describing international efforts to set aircraft carbon emission standards by 2016. Those efforts have stalled for decades.

The EPA action came one month after the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, which is represented by Earthjustice, filed a notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas pollution.

The Clean Air Act rulemaking process now underway requires the EPA to act domestically regardless of international action. In response to an earlier lawsuit by the Center, Friends of the Earth and others, a federal judge ruled three years ago that the EPA must address aviation’s carbon emissions.

As the ICCT study notes, two of the most fuel-efficient carriers — Alaska and Spirit — had the highest operating profit margins in 2013. Meanwhile less-efficient carriers like Allegiant made profits while using old, polluting and less efficient aircraft. These facts flatly disprove industry arguments that fuel costs automatically push airlines to maximize efficiency.

“As Americans fly home for Thanksgiving, this report shows that our airline industry just isn’t taking carbon pollution seriously,” said Pardee. “To preserve a livable planet, we need the EPA to move quickly to fight this problem using the Clean Air Act. Our climate cannot take any further delay.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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