NetJets Europe closes in on carbon-neutral goal

 - November 23, 2009, 6:14 AM

NetJets Europe is on track to become completely carbon neutral by October 2012, according to the fractional’s first environmental progress report, issued on November 9.

The Lisbon-based company, which has been busy adapting to reduced demand, has stepped up wide-ranging efforts to improve efficiency and counter its negative environmental effects, and the negative views many have of business jets.

NetJets also appointed an environmental advisory board–with “some of the world’s leading independent thinkers on green issues”– to advise the company and monitor its achievements. It meets twice a year, and members include Dan Esty of Yale University and Jan-Olaf Williams, founder of InSpire Group.

According to Steven Tebbe, v-p of environmental affairs, the company is moving toward its 2012 goal through its “Real Difference” climate initiative, which started
in October 2007 and has three main categories: carbon offsetting; improving operational efficiency; and the “Green Horizons” program to study future technologies, such as green fuels. Tebbe said that such fuels could ultimately mean that aircraft have a net cleaning effect on atmospheric carbon levels.

Tebbe said that the NetJets carbon offsetting program includes four carbon-credit projects that will soon be part of the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM). These “pre-CDM” programs are run through offset providers EcoSecurities and OneCarbon.

Customers generally have welcomed carbon offsetting, said Tebbe. It is a mandatory part of every five-year owner contract, enabling NetJets Europe to reach a level of 62 percent of flights being actively offset (up from 55 percent in July), while 77 percent of customers are now participating in the program (compared with 69 percent in July). Tebbe noted that it adds approximately half of one percent to the cost of a flight (including an allowance for positioning flights).

He also pointed out that airlines are offsetting less than 2 percent of their emissions because their schemes are voluntary–although he accepts that business aviation is “not necessarily the greenest way to travel. But we believe that our business is essential: getting people with little time to where they need to go.”

The company has cut average per-flight emissions by 6 percent, and has a working group where pilots study ways to increase fuel efficiency. “We are aviation experts so we can add lots of value by adding utility,” said Tebbe. “We are even looking at flying aircraft more slowly when positioning. So we have been testing all our aircraft to find that ‘sweet spot’–as manufacturers don’t seem to know this speed–and have trained all our pilots to do continuous descent approaches [where available].”

NetJets Europe is also testing and validating two Dassault Falcon 2000s fitted with winglets–giving up to 7 percent fuel-burn reduction, said Tebbe–and it has tested an airframe Permaguard top-coating “to make the aircraft more slippery, which can save two to three percent.”

New Fuel Research
Of the Green Horizons initiative, Tebbe told AIN, “We felt that the most pragmatic way forward was to help low-carbon fuels to get off the ground, so two years ago we started funding research at Princeton University.” The outcome is “extremely interesting,” he said, as the university researchers “found that algae was probably not the most pragmatic way to go about it, because of the amount you would need, the need to process it and the low energy content.

“Princeton recommended coal and biomass to liquid with carbon capture and sequestration,’” said Tebbe. “Coal makes many people nervous, but in the short to medium term coal is abundant and has huge energy content. You can approach a zero-carbon-footprint fuel by getting the mix right, which will also depend on its ability to compete with other fuels. In the longer term it could be biomass only, giving a huge negative [carbon] footprint for a net atmosphere-cleaning effect.

“Our part is done and now we need partners to engage with Princeton to help develop the fuels. We need the fuel producers,” said Tebbe, who added that NetJets would be happy to work with the rest of the aviation industry on joint initiatives. “We have the size now to collaborate much more closely with aircraft manufacturers. We will look at what is the most efficient aircraft out there and will vote with our feet,” he concluded.

NetJets is also preparing to participate in the EU emissions trading scheme from Jan. 1, 2011, by submitting its plans for monitoring, reporting and verification, which Tebbe said had been relatively straightforward given that the company already monitors its fuel use closely. It is also active in the Sesar Group, moving towards the Single European Sky. “There are lots of savings to be had there,” he added.

The company is also expressing its views at governmental summits, said Tebbe, and in the run-up to the Copenhagen UN summit this month. “We agree the polluter should pay and have worked closely with the authorities in the UK, Portugal, the EU and internationally.”

ICAO had been slow to act ahead of Copenhagen, he said: “In my view IATA could be more ambitious. If you look at the detail in the goal for 50-percent reduction in CO2 by 2050 [over 2005 levels], lots of that will come from carbon offsetting, and we’ve reached that already. The industry can and must do more and push harder on technology and cleaner fuels. As Al Gore said, ‘Mother Nature doesn’t do bail-outs.’”