India’s largest airline, IndiGo, has just released ‘Flying Responsibly’, its second ESG report, highlighting a transition to sustainable aviation fuels, early achievement of its target to cut aircraft emissions intensity and increased use of ground power and electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions at airports. The report covered the 2021-22 financial year, which ended on March 31st. Since then, the airline has joined the Clean Skies for Tomorrow initiative of the World Economic Forum, committing to replace 10% of its conventional jet fuel with blended SAF by 2030, and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Institute of Petroleum to support and jointly explore the development of the new fuels. “We are committed to an ESG strategy that manages to strike the right balance between ambition and the practical limitations of the sector,” the airline said. Rival Air India, now part of the TATA Group, has also signed a MoU on SAF development with the Institute.
Commenting on IndiGo’s new ESG report, Kiran Koteshwar, the airline’s Chief Programs Officer and ESG Head, said: “In a year full of opportunities, challenges and uncertainty, providing air connectivity to everyone remained core to our business. With respect of ESG, we have embarked on a journey that is rooted in driving change both inside and outside the organisation, and we have made significant progress towards our ESG goals throughout the year.”
IndiGo said its decarbonisation plan focused on cutting fuel emissions, introducing SAF and implementing carbon offsetting measures. A key element of the strategy is renewing its fleet with new, more fuel-efficient Airbus A320 and A321neo aircraft, of which it is one of the world’s largest operators, having ordered a total of 730. In the period covered by the new ESG report, the airline operated 199 Airbus neos, comprising 72% of its fleet.
During the year in review, IndiGo performed 1,574 peak daily flights and achieved 49.7 million passenger journeys across its domestic and short-haul international network, which at the end of 2021-22 totalled 88 destinations. “Fuel accounts for 99.5% of our Scope 1 emissions footprint,” reported the airline. “Therefore, through concerted efforts, we are seeking to reduce the emissions intensity from our jet aviation fuel consumption by 18% between FY 2015-16 and FY 2022-23. We are firmly on course to meet this target by the end of 2022-23.”
On the ground, IndiGo says it has cut emissions by using electric power at airports rather than through the operation of aircraft auxiliary power units (APUs). By using ‘combination units’ to provide pre-conditioned air and electricity to parked aircraft, IndiGo reported an 80% reduction the use of fuel to power APUs. The airline increased by 30% its utilisation of electrically-powered baggage tractors, replacing fossil fuel powered vehicles. It also introduced battery-powered carts to load water onto aircraft and electric Eco Luggage Freight Loaders to load and unload aircraft baggage and freight.
IndiGo said its decarbonisation would continue as more new aircraft were deployed, and reiterated its commitment to SAF use by signing a MoU with the Indian Institute of Petroleum to support and jointly explore the development of new fuels, a measure already agreed by competing low-cost carrier SpiceJet, and since announced collectively by Air India, Air Asia India and Vistara, all of which are wholly or partly owned by India’s Tata industrial group. As well, IndiGo joined the Clean Skies for Tomorrow initiative, pledging that by 2030, 10% of its aviation fuel would be SAF.
“We are also working with a range of other stakeholders in the SAF space in order to accelerate the viability of SAF in the aviation sector, as we recognise SAF to be critical towards helping the sector transition towards a low carbon pathway,” said Ronojoy Dutta, who has just retired as IndiGo CEO, and who led the company during the period covered in the ESG report. His successor is Pieter Elbers, the former CEO of KLM, an airline leading the push to decarbonise air transport.
“We are going to continue working with our partners to ensure more flights using SAF in the future,” said Dutta. “We understand fully that climate change represents not only an existential crisis for the world, but also represents a key business risk to our operations.”
IndiGo’s largest rival, the Tata Group – which completed the purchase of Air India from the Indian government earlier this year, is acquiring AirAsia India and, with Singapore Airlines, co-owns Vistara – has also signed a MoU with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Indian Institute of Petroleum to collaborate on research, development and deployment of SAF. “The focus of the MoU is the exploration of Single Reactor HEFA technology for drop-in liquid Sustainable Aviation and Automotive Fuel (DILSAAF),” said the organisations. “The MoU also outlines the intent of the signatories to work together in a variety of other areas related to sustainable aviation.”
The Tata airlines’ collaboration on SAF is being coordinated by the Tata Sustainability Group, together with the three airlines and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Tata is working to achieve net zero emissions across all of its businesses by 2045.
Photo: Indigo A320 neo