What does it mean to be sustainable? To be around for 20 years, 30 years? Believe it or not, Alaska Airlines has been around for 85 years and we’ve done it by being safe, running a sound business, treating our guests and our employees well, and making wise use of our natural resources. Keeping these things in balance is what being sustainable is all about. But make no bones about it, fuel is a big part of our business. Fuel runs our planes, it gets our employees to and from work, and it takes our guests to the airport and to places they want to see. As a result, our fuel consumption represents 99% of our carbon footprint. Reducing the amount of fuel we consume is a major focus of our sustainability commitment at Alaska Airlines.
I’m happy to say that we’ve made great strides, reducing emissions by 15% in the last eight years. While that doesn’t sound like much, when it comes to taking care of the air where our people live, work, and travel, every bit counts. And using less fuel also benefits our bottom line and allows us to keep growing with new cities, lower fares and, as a result, happy customers who keep coming back.
One of the areas where we’ve made the biggest impact is use of flight technology. Through a pretty cool technique we pioneered called RNP—Required Navigation Performance—we’ve saved more than 518,000 gallons of fuel in the last year alone, reducing carbon emissions by more than 11 million pounds. Installing scimitar winglets (those neat things on the tips of our airplane’s wings) helped us save a further 627,437 gallons of fuel, or reduce emissions by over 13 million pounds.
These efforts are on top of our already fuel-efficient fleet, which is about to get even more efficient. Alaska Airlines is excited to add the Boeing 737 MAX, which is roughly 13% more fuel efficient than our other 737s. It will make its debut for us in 2019. Virgin America is taking delivery of new state-of-the art Airbus A321neo aircraft this year. The A321neos are equipped with new engines that will make them up to 15-20% more fuel and carbon efficient than the previous models.
Another area where we’re doing our part is onboard our airplanes and at our airports. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air flight attendants collected more than 84% of all cups, cans, bottles, newspapers, and other materials for recycling, diverting over 1,800 tons of inflight waste from landfills in 2016. That is up from 82% last year.
While we’re proud of our progress, we’re also aware where we still have work to do, such as moving towards sustainable biofuels by 2020. Although Alaska Airlines flew three groundbreaking flights in 2016 using biofuel products made from corn-based products and forest residuals, the infrastructure to bring these fuels to market in the quantities that we need is just not there yet. And although we have the technology through our RNP fuel efficient approaches, we are only using them on 4% of airport instrument approaches. Upgrades to our nation’s air traffic control infrastructure need to catch up to allow the full use of this technology.
And, perhaps most obviously, is the fact that as we grow, and add more aircraft, we add emissions. This year our emission challenges grow, with the addition of Virgin America’s aircraft. We now have 286 aircraft, and nearly 1,200 daily departures.
As we work towards larger sustainability goals, we continue to focus on our commitment to our people and the communities we serve through flying safe, giving back and creating authentic connections with our guests and our diverse community of employees, and ensuring Alaska is a company people love to work for. We’ve just celebrated another record year of profitability. By maintaining solid financial performance, we were able to invest in our business and welcome a new airline into our growing family—Virgin America. And our employees volunteered over 27,000 hours and we gave back $13.5 million to organizations that serve people in our communities.
After all, while fuel is important, it’s our people that truly power our airline. Running our business in a way that gives back to the people that we care for is the right thing to do. I invite you to read more about these efforts in our 2016 Sustainability Report.