Whether you operate one aircraft or a large fleet, integrating a carbon offset program into your flight department’s operations can be a labor-intensive and confusing task. The team at 4AIR has the insights you need to make your operation’s participation as simple as a daytime VFR landing.
Your company principal just gave you the news you’ve been dreading: he wants you to implement a carbon offset program as soon as possible. Sure, it’s a great idea. You want to run a responsible flight department, but where do you start? You’ve heard the term “carbon offset,” but you’re not exactly sure how it applies to a private flight department.
As the first company built around providing from-the-ground-up carbon offset guidance for business and general aviation operators, 4AIR has taken the lead in developing programs that are easy to implement.
As 4AIR’s president, Kennedy Ricci, explains, a carbon offset program is basically a mechanism for finding the most cost-effective way to offset the production of one metric ton (mtCO2) of your aircraft’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“We verify the operator’s usage, and then they buy offset credits that cover that amount of CO2, so they can achieve carbon neutrality,” he says. “Those credits are used to pay for any of a variety of ‘green’ projects like solar, hydro, wind farms, or other renewable energy programs.”
While anyone can buy carbon credits, one of the most time-consuming and confusing aspects—at least from your perspective— can be accurately determining just how many credits your operation needs to purchase. With all the variables, that task alone can stop a program before it gets started.
“We use ICAO’s globally accepted 3.16 carbon intensity for jet fuel as our baseline,” Ricci says. “That way, there’s a level of standardization. But we also factor in differences resulting from whether someone charters or owns their aircraft and look at whether the operator is using SAF [sustainable aviation fuel] and how much.
“Once we have that volume of SAF, we calculate that against their total fuel usage and then base their offset on the remaining number,” he continues. “It’s a complex situation because there are so many variables to calculate the reduction from SAF. The same aircraft can use SAF from different locations with different blends and emission reductions. It takes a lot of coordination with the aircraft’s operator and fuel provider.”
4AIR ‘aviationizes’ carbon offsets.
By now, you’re probably thinking that creating a carbon offset program for your flight department is as hard as planning an international flight using a road map and a sextant. You’re not alone.
However, providing guidance through the carbon offsets maze is exactly what 4AIR was created to do. The company was built around the unique needs of business aircraft operators.
“We are working with a wide array of clients, including aircraft and helicopter operators, charter and jet card providers, aircraft management companies, and aircraft manufacturers, and we’re collaborating with airports now, too,” Ricci says. “We provide a wide range of services to meet each one’s particular goals.”
He adds that because the whole carbon offset movement in business aviation is brand new, 4AIR is frequently brought in to develop and implement a turn-key solution.
“Right now, flight departments are very busy doing what they’re there to do—flying,” Ricci says. “They don’t have time to learn all the details of a carbon offset program or including SAF in their operation. We become their in-house sustainability experts, so it’s the easiest way to get involved with solutions tailored to business aviation. We make it as easy as we can, but there is a lot of education that happens around starting a program like this.
“For example, if they want to start using SAF, we help them identify opportunities for uplift or book and claim as well as setting an intelligent starting budget,” Ricci continues. “We can also monitor the growth of SAF availability, and how they can adapt their trip planning.
“If they’re already using SAF, then we can get all of the additional emission-reduction paperwork together and report it, so they understand what their current carbon footprint is and the different ways they have to offset it,” he adds. “We can act as the flight department’s carbon accounting department. Most of our partners just report their flight hours or fuel uplift to us and we handle everything else for them.”
Ricci stresses that 4AIR’s expertise can also be put into play to help the flight department integrate its operations with those of the company’s current carbon offset umbrella program provider.
“There are a lot of carbon offset providers in the commercial sector, but few of them know anything about business aviation operations or sustainable aviation fuels,” Ricci says. “They may calculate an operation’s carbon footprint using a different scale, and they may be unable to factor in the savings from SAF.
“Some just don’t understand the value of aircraft to a business today. We had one flight department tell us that their ‘corporate’ carbon offset provider said that their best solution was to just fly less,” he continues. “That’s not the way we look at it. We think aviation can be part of the solution and we are here to help translate recommendations into things that work for business aviation.”
The cost of carbon offsetting.
By now, you’re likely wondering what this will all cost your flight department. According to Ricci, that’s one of the most important services that 4AIR brings to its partner companies.
“We help them understand the costs of the various levels of carbon offset participation,” he says. “Right now, there are four levels: our Level One, which is a 100 percent straight carbon offset, runs about $10 per flight hour for a turboprop, up to $40 an hour for any business jet smaller than an Embraer Lineage or a BBJ.
“Our Level Two is a 300 percent offset and includes additional responsibility for non-carbon emissions. Level Three adds SAF credits to that and goes beyond neutral into the reduction of carbon emissions,” Ricci explains. “Level Four adds investments in new technologies and partnering with researchers to fund advancements that will help introduce new technologies like hydrogen- and electric-powered aircraft.
“Depending on the aircraft type and its usage, Level Four participation will add between $100 and $400 per hour to the operating costs,” he continues. “We work with the owner/operator to determine which level of participation is best for their situation. They can always adjust as their situation changes.”
Ricci emphasizes that because participation is purely voluntary, any investments you make in carbon offset credits are not currently considered “operational expenses.” Hence, they are not tax-deductible in the U.S.
Using your credits wisely.
While calculating and buying credits is the primary goal of every carbon offset program, there’s also the matter of how you choose to allocate your credits. Ricci says that helping its partners find the right places to invest their carbon credits is one of 4AIR’s biggest benefits.
Right now, anyone can purchase credits to offset their own carbon production, but buyers need to beware that not all credits are created equal. Ricci stresses that it’s critical that those credits are certificated and authenticated to conform to international standards.
Credits purchased by 4AIR are all globally verified under CORSIA-approved standards. That way, there is never a question about their validity. Once individual credits are redeemed, their unique identification numbers are retired and cannot be resold.
“Where it gets a little more technical is which credits you use,” Ricci continues. “People think that’s it’s just about planting trees. It can be that or a whole lot more. There are literally thousands of projects and technologies to invest in and not all are created equal. We do the due diligence, auditing the calculations and assumptions of benefits for all the options and identifying the best options for our partners, so they make an informed and impactful choice.”
Don’t be put off by offsets.
While there’s little doubt that flight operations of all shapes and sizes will want to participate in some kind of carbon offset program, it can be a bit daunting, as Ricci notes.
“Our goal is to help make flight operations’ sustainability efforts easier by minimally impacting their daily operations yet maximally impacting broader aviation sustainability efforts,” he says. “No matter if they want to do it all in-house, want a turn-key solution, or just want to optimize their opportunity with the current corporate carbon offset program, we are here to help them.
“Whether it’s incremental improvements or guidance on operational changes, 4AIR was built around filling the unique needs of business aviation operations,” Ricci concludes. “Our job is to go as deep as our partners want to make it easy for them to lessen their global carbon footprint, while maximizing the usefulness of their aircraft’s operation.”