Air France has laid claim to the first ever fully optimised flight to cross the Atlantic Ocean, followed less than a day later by American Airlines on the exact same route.

An AF Paris CDG-Miami flight yesterday saw green-friendly improvements on all stages, such as shorter taxiing times, continuous climb and descent, and an optimised cruise altitude and speed.

An AA flight from Paris CDG, again bound for Miami, followed less than 24 hours later using many of the same techniques and also single-engine taxiing. It is due to land this evening.

Both AF and AA have taken advantage of a joint EU-US initiative which encourages airlines to use the latest technology and techniques to streamline operations, with the end result being fewer carbon emissions.

In total, the improvements saved AF two to three metric tonnes of jet fuel on the nine and a half hour flight, resulting in a cut in CO2 emissions of between six and nine metric tonnes.

The savings to the AA flight won’t be known until it lands later tonight. A post-flight analysis is expected to be carried out by AA and US and European aviation authorities.

AA said the procedures formed “several key elements” of its drive to reduce carbon emissions by a one million metric tonnes this year.

AF said the same techniques, if applied to all its long-haul flights to and from North America, could amount to fuel savings of 43,000 metric tonnes per year and 135,000 fewer metric tonnes of CO2 emitted.

At nine and a half hours long, the AF B747-400ER flight yesterday was no longer, or shorter, than the current scheduled flight time despite several speed optimisations.

It is not known when, or even if, the new procedures will see fleet-wide adoption by AF, AA or indeed any other airlines. What is known is that yesterday’s flight was backed by several key agencies within France, the EU and the US, namely the French DGAC civil aviation authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and SESAR, a European Commission-founded partnership of 15 air traffic control providers.

Traffic control agencies from the UK and Portugal also had their part to play as the AF flight passed through airspace controlled by NATS and NAV Portugal respectively.

AF also said noise levels had been reduced by up to seven decibels during the departure and arrival phases.

Flight optimisation is not limited to Air France among the European airlines. Airline partner KLM has been using some of the same techniques on its flights for some time now, where ever possible and dependent on airport co-operation.

Improved fuel efficiency through optimisation is just one way in which airlines are attempting to meet industry-wide emissions targets. Other methods currently being explored include the use of biofuels and building aircraft from lighter materials.

Earlier this year both Qatar Airways and British Airways announced plans to further invest in the use of biofuels (see online news February 16).

For an in-depth look at efforts made by the airline industry as a whole, see Green Sky Thinking from the February edition of Business Traveller.

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